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‘Nighthawks’ – A Study

Edward Hopper Nighthawks
‘Nighthawks’ by Edward Hopper. Oil on canvas.
One of American art’s most recognisable paintings, ‘Nighthawks’ depicts late-night dining in Downtown New York. It was painted in 1942 and quickly sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000, and it has remained there since.
The use of the sharp corner in this painting is characteristic of Hopper’s style as this unusual perspective gave him the opportunity to paint part of the view as seen through two panes of glass. This can be seen in several other of his paintings including ‘Office in a Small City’. Another characteristic of Hopper’s work which is visible here is his interest in light and shadow. We are able to see the effect of man-made light on the surrounding darkness as the light from the diner is cast sharply into the surrounding streets.
Both the title of the painting and the location of the diner are ambiguous. ‘Nighthawks’ can be seen as simply a name for those late-night diners, or as a reference to the man at the bar who has a beak-shaped nose. The intended name for the painting was actually ‘Night Hawks’. There has been much speculation as to the actual location of the diner. It is commonly thought to be in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, which was  Hopper’s own neighbourhood, although the corner has since been demolished. There has been talk of the diner being entirely fictitious, although Edward Hopper himself was quoted as saying ‘I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger’, suggesting that the painting was at least based on a real-life diner.
Edward Hopper kept a journal with his wife Josephine. He would draw sketches of his ideas for paintings and she would annotate the sketches with additional details to be referred to later. The entry for ‘Nighthawks’ gives us an insight into the artwork in its early stages of development:
“Night + brilliant interior of cheap restaurant. Bright items: cherry wood counter + tops of surrounding stools; light on metal tanks at rear right; brilliant streak of jade green tiles 3/4 cross canvas at base of glass of window curving at corner. Light walls, dull yellow ocre [sic] door into kitchen right. Very good looking blond boy in white (coat, cap) inside counter. Girl in red blouse, brown hair eating sandwich. Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette. Other figure dark sinister back at left. Light side walk outside pale greenish. Darkish red brick houses opposite. Sign across top of restaurant, dark Phillies 5c cigar. Picture of cigar. Outside of shop dark, green. Note: bit of bright ceiling inside shop against dark of outside street at edge of stretch of top of window.”
View the artwork at the Art Institute of Chicago
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A Different Perspective

Taking something ordinary and viewing it from a new angle has long been a way of creating innovative art. It gives the viewer a task, a problem to solve as they look at the artwork. The appreciation of beauty is not the only objective, they are also testing their powers of recognition. This can have two outcomes. The, at first unrecognisable, object or pattern can become more beautiful upon recognition. One sees beauty in something which usually appears ordinary. At the other end of the scale, a beautiful abstract artwork may lose some of its appeal and aesthetic qualities once we realise that the artwork depicts something with which we are already familiar.
The above represents a risk for the artist. Playing with a viewer’s expectations can produce varied results and ultimately affect their overall verdict on the piece. With the preferred outcome, this is an exciting way of viewing art which adds another level of enjoyment to the work.
Take a closer look at this piece which we love:


‘Cornered in Pinks’ by Ron Adams
One of a series of paintings composed from architectural elements observed in modern homes.




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A Baroque Masterpiece

baroque masterpiece
‘A Man Seated at a Reading Table in a Lofty Room’. 1627
A recent discovery for us, this Baroque style painting is beautiful in its use of light and shadows.  A lone man sits under a large window, shunning the light streaming in through the large window behind him. It evokes a feeling of solitude and reflection. Until recently this painting was attributed to Rembrandt, however it is now thought that it is the work of one of his contemporary followers. It echoes the style of Rembrandt’s work when he was in his native Leiden and he used such strong contrasts of light and dark. It has now been noticed that the composition does not look to be typical of his work and that the paint has been applied in too heavy-handed a manner. It also lacks some of the detail that one usually finds in Rembrandt’s work.
Oil on oak.
This work is now showing at The National Gallery, London.
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Gauguin 1848 -1903




Eugene Henri Paul Gauguin was a Post- Impressionist artist who influenced Matisse and the Fauvists because of his use of line. He was born in Paris but was of Peruvian descent and lived in Peru for a few years. After school he joined the Navy and then became a stockbroker in paris, buying and collecting influential paintings. Following the stock market crash he developed his own interest in painting and began to do so full time. Gauguin exhibited with the Impressionists in 1881 and 1882 but quickly became disillusioned with European art of the time and looked to the art of Africa and Asia which he saw to be full of depth and meaning.
He formed a love of colour and the picture plane as well as stained glass and cloisonne enamel. Both these techniques involve hard black outlines and large expanses of colour. In 1886 Gauguin travelled to Martinique in search of the primitive and rich, tropical colours. When he returned to France he was persuaded to join Van Gogh, sharing a love of colour and lines in expressive art which lasted for a short while. He then moved to Tahiti to escape “everything that is artificial and conventional” and absorbed the Tahitian culture, making prints and woodcuts.
He would call his combination of colour and line Synthetism because they became intertwined as one. He continued to develop his style, portraying the native people from an exoticized perspective and siding with them rather than the colonial authorities. Gauguin would eventually die on a remote Polynesian island in 1903. His work was not fully recognised until after his death, but it is to him that the artistic movement Primitivism is first credited.
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Paul Klee (1879-1940)

Paul Klee
Since Paul Klee is currently making a solo appearance at the Tate, it seems like a good time to take a moment to look at his work.
I grew up with Paul Klee (prints) on the walls around me, and have been a fan ever since. I was interested to learn more at the fantastic Barbican Bauhaus exhibition a couple of years ago and now here is again, this time at Tate Modern.
The Tate exhibition ‘Paul Klee – Making Visible’ is a great show. It features over 200 of Klee’s paintings in chronological order. In doing so Tate draws attention to the intricate numbering system that Paul Klee began in 1911. It is possible to see the transition of his work, through various stages of Pointillism, Surrealism and Cubism and to see how he reached the themes of some of his more famous works during his prolific and diverse career.
The Swiss-German artist studied in Munich and joined Der Blaue Reiter group formed by Wasily Kandinsky, exhibiting with them in 1912. His influence whilst teaching at the Bauhaus School in Weimar was significant, and he worked alongside others including Kandinsky to remove the division between different artistic disciplines.
Paul Klee’s personal work explored the Bauhaus ideals and he was a strong advocate of Colour Theory, writing about it in “Writing on Form and Design Theory’.
Paul Klee at Tate Modern – Making Visible
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Still Life Painting

still life painting with tulips
Just watched the fascinating documentary ‘Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting‘. It advises us to stop and look at our surroundings as we strive to gather material possessions. We are encouraged to try to understand the value of nature and find beauty in that which is considered ‘ordinary’.
Just watched the fascinating documentary ‘Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting‘. It advises us to stop and look at our surroundings as we strive to gather material possessions. We are encouraged to try to understand the value of nature and find beauty in that which is considered ‘ordinary’.
Still life is described by Prof. Norman Bryson as an artistic showcase for everything within arm’s reach.
We are taken on a journey beginning with Roman art depicting fruit and fish as a way of adorning homes and showing the levels of hospitality that guests can expect to find within. Still Life was a genre that was pioneered by the Romans but it was still considered the lowest form of art that an artist could undertake.
Medieval times saw the value of Still Life painting fall away dramatically as religion became the chief subject matter. Art was there to display a message to the viewer, to contribute to Christian society. Objects within paintings were there solely as symbols, for example, the apple as a representation of the Fall from Grace. Yet artists began to take a greater interest in the everyday objects within their paintings and these objects achieved greater prominence until the religious figures became almost secondary to them. In this way Christianity helped to revive still life, giving artists a way of representing the everyday within a religious context.
In 1596 Caravaggio painted his ‘Basket of Fruit’. In this, the first true Still Life painting, all religious narrative has been removed with sole focus on the depiction of the detail of the basket and fruit within. The Biblioteca Ambrosiano was founded in 1607 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, a key collector of art during the Renaissance. His love of ‘Basket of Fruit’ by Caravaggio led to the commissioning of many similar works.
Basket of Fruit’ Carvaggio 1599
Northern Europe would provide the setting for the new age of Still Life painting. It was in the Netherlands in particular, at around 1600, that the art market exploded and Still Life became a phenomenon. The Protestant Reformation was causing a storm and much Catholic art was destroyed. Dutch people found themselves free from the reins of the Catholic church and desired new art to reflect this move. The wealthy Protestant merchant classes would commission huge amounts of secular Still Life art to showcase their wealth and taste. The artwork began to represent their new maritime connections to other parts of the word and exotic flowers and objects crept gradually into the work.
In the 1700s when Louis XIIII moved the French court to Versailles The Louvre became the Academy of Art. At this time Paris became the centre of European Art and it was the Academicians that decided the rules. Drawing and painting the human figure was considered to be the highest class of art that could be achieved, and artists who chose not to paint this subject matter were resigned to the bottom of the hierarchy. Chardin was the first still life painter to be taken seriously by The Academy. He proved that is as great to paint something that you see on a table before you as a scene from a classical or mythological story which must be imagined by the artist.
Cezanne arrived in Paris with a new and radical style of painting which appeared to his contemporaries to be distorted and rushed. Cezanne believed that painting was about perception and that with his new artistic philosophy he would be able to stun Paris with a painting of a simple apple. He painted in such a way as to record his own perception of the object, rather than simply represent it within its three-dimensional surroundings. Cezanne’s work did not receive an audience for most of his life but as his ideas came to be fully recognised he was termed ‘The Father of Modern Art’ by Picasso. In his move away from strict realism he had allowed the rules of Still Life to be altered. This new way of thinking challenged the ideals of 19th century French art. Renoir, Monet and Gauguin would continue the experimentation with colour, line and perspective and in doing so develop Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.
Still Life with Apples by Paul Cezanne, 1879.
The development of photography led to many Still Life compositions being created by photographers in an attempt to capture pure realism. This in turn led artists such as Picasso to emphasize their own interpretations of subject matter to further remove themselves from this new medium. He pioneered Cubism and used expressive brushstrokes and texture in order to show that which was impossible in photography but achievable through the medium of paint.
We end by looking at contemporary art, shaped by the still life work of past great artists but with a twist. These days we expect something more from our still life, so used are we to seeing images all around us now that advertising is king. We are urged to look again at the overlooked and to really see our possessions in all their beauty within our materialistic world.
Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting BBC Four
Cover Image: Still Life with Tulips and Pears by Jan Rippingham