Lone figures lost in thought – these are Edward Hopper’s most memorable subjects. The American artist, who earned his career breakthrough in the mid-1920s and 1930s after decades of obscurity, is known for his enigmatic and melancholic paintings of urban life.
His most famous work, Nighthawks (1942), continues to be referenced and replicated in popular culture today. In a brightly lit diner, three customers sit, slightly apart, without acknowledging each other, each one wearily preoccupied with their own problems.
It exemplifies Hopper’s style – a dramatic play of light and shadow, cinematic composition, and an air of mystery.
Tensions and disconnections between people, especially couples, repeat in paintings such as Room in New York and Summer Evening.
Often, Hopper portrays individuals caught up in unknown anxieties or loneliness, as in Automat, where a woman hunches over a table with a cup of coffee. The blackened window reveals that it is dark outside, and her layers of clothing indicate that she might be taking shelter from the cold.
“We are all Edward Hopper paintings now,” wrote a user on Twitter, alluding to the sense of isolation that has permeated societies undergoing lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. It seemed to resonate – at least 200,000 people liked the tweet. As of Tuesday, nearly a billion people were in lockdown as governments call for social distancing to stem the spread of the disease.