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Major Themes

Home Hopper's Life Major Themes Selected Artwork


Edward Hopper’s art has become very influential and well known.  One example of a very well known piece is his Nighthawks (1942).  It has been used for many commercial purposes.  One example of this is with Starbucks.  They put their name on the diner in the painting. There is also a replica that replaces characters with famous people like Marylyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Humphrey Bogart, and James Dean.


Hopper had a very personalized style especially in his later paintings.  He had many different subject matters.  He had subject matters that were both of fiction and reality, but mainly he like to combine elements of reality with those of fiction.  When he traveled to Europe he had a lot he could paint about.  He also liked to paint themes associated with situations from military history.  His most well known works are his American influenced paintings.  It is what tells a lot about his work and life as an American artist.  He had a statement about the changing American lifestyle.  In particular he revealed a world that no longer was in a state of innocence but a world headed for self-destruction.


Hopper’s art maps the growth of cities and the technological advances within the city and the countryside of America from the 1920’s through the 1960’s when he died.  He captured these changes by painting such things as gas stations, hotel lobbies, night scenes, train tracks, light houses, offices, trains, and cars.  Whenever he was in the country or the city he felt inspired to paint based on the lack of activities there were to do. 


Hopper witnessed the shift of the American populace from the country to the city and the modernization of American transportation.  These were changes which should have theoretically facilitated the bringing of people together.  He felt these changes were aggravating because they seemed to cause more isolation and alienation in many individuals.  These emotions were among his major themes as well as the themes of boredom and waiting which were very prevalent among the country lifestyle but also the city lifestyle.


He also liked his paintings to explore the psychological effects change had on the characters within his pictures.  He also seemed to try and catch the moment that occurs after something has happened.  For example in the painting Hotel Lobby (1943) it appears as if he captured the old couple just after they stopped fighting.  These were just some of the classic examples of how he liked to portray some sort of message that could be interpreted in many different ways.

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City Themes


Hopper tried to capture the alienation and loneliness found within the city.  Throughout his life he had viewed many changes in particular those in New York.  This was mainly because he lived in New York and had studied there.


Hopper was drawn to the city for many reasons.  One reason was because of the architecture that was found in the city.  Another reason was because of his attraction to the city lifestyle.  He observed many scenes he painted through windows, restaurants, offices, and apartments.  He observed and focused on the dehumanization of the individual in connection to the changes occurring.  He wasn’t much of a fan of technology and the other changes taking place.

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Country Themes


With Hopper’s country scenes, he always seemed to try and capture a piece of nature and the modern world.  He captured this with either the use of houses in the foreground of a rugged background, or a rugged landscape with a road passing through it.


Even with these country scenes Hopper portrayed the theme of alienation with the figures by eliminating any human figures.

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Hopper loved to paint lighthouses because he loved the architecture.  He also loved to paint them because of his love for the sea. 


In almost all of his lighthouse scenes, he seemed to catch them on an angle where the sea couldn’t be seen.  It was like he wanted to capture the enormity of these buildings without nature decreasing the immensity of them.

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Restaurant and Leisure Scenes


Hopper helped portray city life activities.  He portrayed the hustle and bustle of restaurant work especially during the lunch hour.  He did this especially in his later artwork.  It seemed that even though there are so many people, there is some isolation captured.  The most well known piece of Hopper’s artwork that portrays alienation is Nighthawks (1942). 


Although there are many lonely images captured in his paintings, it wasn’t always done purposely.  There are some paintings that do capture something other than loneliness, in particular the busyness of city life.

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Theater Scenes


Hopper liked to also paint theater scenes.  He especially liked to paint the spectators rather than those on stage.  Usually he focused scenes that were prior to the show.  In particular these scenes depicted those actions of thought and wait.  The same occurred with the movie theater scenes.  These are many activities of the city life, and they are those activities that lack human interaction.

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Office Scenes


His interest in the office scenes were probably derived form his days as an illustrator.  Hopper tried to give each office scene the sense of isolationism and loneliness.  He conveys it through the office furniture, where it is placed, who is placed in them, and even the lack of people in them.

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Travel and Transportation


Hopper was interested not only in capturing scenes of different places but in the psychology of those who went traveling and how they responded to their surroundings.  He and Jo went traveling to many famous tourist attractions and many ordinary places also.  He was observant of the behaviors of people in the trains, hotels, and in particular lobbies, and hotel rooms.  He again saw that alienation.  He tended to link this with the rapid changes in technology and mobilization.

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Train Travel


Hopper liked travel in particular train travel.  This was probably because of his interest in trains since he was a child.  Hopper’s interest in trains was not focused so much on the train itself but rather on what encounters people would have had with the train.


He liked to focus on the small towns that were passed by and forgotten about by the passengers on the train on their way to their destination town.  He used the sunlight to convey these messages.  He also played with and portrayed the non-interaction of passengers with each other in cars and the passing landscape.

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Car Travel


Hopper had a fascination with gas stations.  In his painting Gas (1940) he portrayed the gas station as an oasis for weary travelers.  He also captures the loneliness of the attendant as he waits for another customer.  He also placed the gas station in the middle of a forest.  He liked to capture the clash of the natural landscape with that of manmade architecture and technology.  He painted a lot of scenes like this.  He got a lot of ideas and  painted a lot of scenes from the images he saw in his car. 

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Hotel Scenes


The pictures he painted of people in hotel rooms reflected his interest in creating stories.  He tried to get the viewer to try and capture their own meaning of his work.  He liked to communicate the instances of coldness and lack of communication in the middle class lifestyle.  Hopper’s beginning paintings of this subject show more of a peaceful coexistence between nature and technology.  This changed in his later pictures.

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When Hopper was coming up with an idea for a painting, he often did many sketches.  He also used watercolors to capture the colors of what he sketched.  When he painted the final pictures he did them in oil paint.  Many predominate colors he used were greens, blues, and yellows. These colors helped to capture the moods he was trying to convey. 

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Hopper was interested in the emotional interaction of couples and the lack of interaction between them.  The lack of emotional interaction is what especially interested him in this subject.  This lack of interaction can be seen especially in his painting Room in New York (1932).   In the painting a man is reading the newspaper intensely while ignoring his wife.  His wife on the other hand is playing with the keys on the piano.  Both are together physically but not emotionally.

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Hopper had a fascination with military history.  In particular he had a fascination with the Civil War.  This could have been because of his fascination with the Civil War as a child and the numerous works he did with this concept as an illustrator.

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Time of Day


Hopper was very interested in the time of day.  One reason in particular that he liked it was because of the way the natural light would change throughout the day.  Another reason was because he felt there were different moods that were experienced throughout the day.  Hopper named a lot of his pieces after the time of day it was drawn in.  Some of the moods were as follows.  The night seemed to hold the mood of anxiety in the works. The evening seemed to hold the mood of restlessness.  The morning seemed to hold the mood of longing.  Finally, midday seemed to hold the time of expectation.  It was the time of day when everything seemed to happen.

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Hopper used more sunlight in his later projects.  With his country scenes Hopper played with the use of sunlight and he used that with the use of impressionism.  He especially liked to capture the use of sunlight on lighthouses.  He painted many scenes from Cape Cod where he spent a lot of time.  He was interested in painting pictures in which people were either outside in the sun, or experiencing the sun from the inside.  He liked to also paint people sunbathing, which was a very popular pastime in Cape Cod at the time.  With the use of sunlight he tried to portray the different kinds of awakenings that people experience throughout the different points in their life.  With the use of sunlight it might have had a link to Hopper’s thoughts of life beyond physical existence.  Even in these paintings he still explores the idea of alienation despite any awakenings that are taking place.

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Nighthawks, 1942
(Oil on Canvas)









Hotel Lobby, 1943
(Oil on Canvas)

































































Gas, 1940
(Oil on Canvas)
















Room in New York, 1932
(Oil on Canvas)



























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This site was updated on 04/30/2004