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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.

Comments

And being able to go see this painting whenever I like is one of my consolations for living in Chicago and not in amazing New York. Did you get to see the touring exhibition of Hopper's work last year? It also appeared in Boston and DC. Incredible. On one wall was a Hopper quote that has stayed with me: "What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house."
Teri Tynes said…
I didn't get to see the Hopper exhibition last year, although I wanted to travel to one of those cities to see it. I did see the large exhibition organized by the Whitney in 1980, and I remember it so well it feels like it was yesterday. Toward the end of these series of posts, I'll visit Hopper's paintings that are on exhibit in the local New York museums.
Unknown said…
Fascinating, and neat that you scoped out the location!
Teri Tynes said…
Thanks, Vidiot. It was startling to see the location, even empty, and then to see how well the diner fit the space when I was blending the two images.
Anonymous said…
Awesome Photoshop job. Thank you for sharing the location of the diner with us. You did a great job with the perspective and sizing. Would love to have the city enlarge 'Nighthawks' and put it on a display board on that corner... how cool would that be for everyone to see.
Phil said…
Nice Photoshop job. I make scratch-built scale models of diner (currently working on Phil's in N. Hollywood) and was thinking of the diner in Nighthawks as my next project./ Do you happen to have any information on dimensions, etc.? Thanks.
Teri Tynes said…
Hi Phil,
The "real diner" depicted in Nighthawks is a bit mysterious,as a photo of the place Hopper describes has yet to materialize. As an artist, he was likely to alter the dimensions for his artistic purposes. So, I think you could make a wonderful speculative model just based on the painting.
Anonymous said…
I was told the painting location was across the street, the florist that is in your photo. and still looks like the painting if you remove the awnings. but......i was only told this once. big grain of salt.
Teri Tynes said…
Anon - (Though I'm making an exception to my no Anon comments)- That's possible, too, you know. I'm not 100% sure about this location. Other have written me about alternative theories and locations, including yours, and I was considering this possibility just today. Hopper sketched and used his imagination for the painting. We may never see a picture of his diner at a corner on Greenwich Avenue.

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