2.05.2009

The Light in Hopper: The Diner on Greenwich Avenue. Yes, That Diner

June 8, 2010. Jeremiah's Vanishing New York has written a three-part thriller investigating the potential locations for Hopper's famous diner. Start with Part I here.

May 14, 2010. Update to post: From time to time, readers become interested in this post. Today was such a day. Thanks to a link from Jeremiah's Vanishing New York on May 14, 2010, a few readers have written to me about their own quest to find some certainty in the now-vanished diner. I consider the case open, because a photo of a diner resembling the Nighthawk has not yet surfaced. I based my original conjecture on a couple of things. First, Hopper said that his painting "was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." That gets us only so far, but the intersection of Greenwich and Seventh Avenue seemed a possibility. Second, several online sources published prior to my post cited this location (Mulry Square) as the home for the diner. When I blended my image and part of the painting together, the angles seem to match. Still, I could visit other locations on Greenwich Avenue and possibly achieve the same affect. In other words, I think this is an open case, and I encourage readers with specific local knowledge or good art history skills to offer their own theories of the location of Hopper's famous diner. It may turn out that Hopper, an artist, made sketches based on an actual restaurant, but that on returning to the studio on Washington Square, he mostly relied on his imagination. However the story turns out, I'm sorry the diner has vanished. Please leave your comments, knowledge, or speculations in the comments section. I look forward to hearing from you. - TT

In the immediate weeks following Pearl Harbor, the attack that propelled the nation into World War II, Edward Hopper was busy painting a new canvas. He made several preparatory sketches for a scene at a diner. These sketches and studies included a seated man in a hat shown from the back, one of a man seated at the counter and leaning forward and another of a woman, sketches of the coffee maker, a salt shaker and other counter necessities. Hopper made studies for the general shape of the diner as seen from the outside. The eatery sat on a corner intersection of a city and featured a dynamic curve and large windows, these more like transparent walls, and he roughly penciled in the angle of the street behind the building. The point of view is that of a pedestrian passing along the street at night.

During his lifetime, Hopper spoke little about the stories behind his paintings, but for the famous finished painting we know as Nighthawks (1942), he made the location clear. From an interview with Katherine Kuh published in 1962:

Hopper: "[Nighthawks] was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet. Nighthawks seems to be the way I think of a night street.
Question: Lonely and empty?
Hopper: I didn't see it as particularly lonely. I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger. Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city." - quoted in Katharine Kuh, The Artist's' Voice: Talks with Seventeen Modern Artists, p. 134

Following in Hopper's footsteps, I walked from the place where he lived on Washington Square North to the intersection of Greenwich and Seventh Avenues to visit the location of the demolished diner. On this spot, a high chain link fence, dotted with hundreds of individual tiles to commemorate the events of 9-11, surrounds a mostly empty lot used to store equipment. Based on my conversations, I believe many locals know about the Nighthawks story, and from time to time, someone will propose a new plan for this corner lot.

Stand at a certain spot on the Seventh Avenue side of the intersection and squint your eyes. An icon of American culture may appear.

From Winter 2009

Image: Dayhawks (2009). Photoshop image of the diner section of Hopper's Nighthawks superimposed on an image of the southeast corner of Seventh and Greenwich Avenues, taken by Walking Off the Big Apple on February 4, 2009. Nighthawks (1942), oil on canvas, 33 1/8 x 60 inches, by Edward Hopper is in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. This post is part of a series about the New York of Edward Hopper.

See the walk and location on a map at this follow-up post.
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