Edward Hopper Paintings in Pandemic

Hopper’s paintings of lonely and thoughtful people remind us of ourselves in the pandemic.

A lonely and thoughtful woman with the morning sun lightening her body in an empty room, a small group of people sitting apart from each other in a bar, a lone worker at a deserted gas station… American famous painter Edward Hopper’s paintings in which we see reclusive and lonely characters are gaining meaning for us these days when we struggle with Covid-19.

These “solitary” characters of Edward Hopper reflect the spirit of American society of the time: The USA entered the Second World War after Japan’s sudden attack on Pearl Harbor Harbor within the borders of the USA. Afterwards, a strong crisis awaited the American society. The unhappy, unrelated characters in Hopper’s paintings are also the reflection of this social crisis on the artist’s works.

We see unhappy characters, empty streets and enclosed spaces in Nighthawks, which Hopper drew in 1942 – a year after the attack. In addition, the colors used by the painter and the gloomy atmosphere affecting the painting are a clear reflection of his depressed state. A couple who don’t talk to each other, a lonely customer sitting alone and not concerned with his surroundings, and a restaurant employee who still doesn’t seem to be interested in the surroundings… We mentioned that the painting reflected the depressed mood of the American society during the Second World War; today, when we look at the paintings again with the difficult conditions brought by the epidemic we have been fighting for months, the following sentence appears in our mind: “We are all Edward Hopper paintings now.” *

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We find ourselves in the paintings of Edward Hopper for a long time because of social distance rules that have been going on for months, the physical distances we put with our loved ones, our avoidance of crowded places, and the streets and places that are empty during quarantine days. It is said that this restaurant painted by Hopper is located near his home; in other words, the painter encountered the loneliness just as we face today when we look up at our surroundings

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Women at Sun, 1961                                               

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  Morning Sun, 1952

Nighthawks is a painting depicting the solitude and silence shared by a group of people. In addition to Nighthawks, the artist has many paintings rendering individual loneliness. Hopper’s works such as “Morning Sun” and “A Woman in the Sun” also show lonely women in rooms. In “Morning Sun”, we see a thoughtful woman sitting alone in her room, and in “A Woman in the Sun” painting, again a lonely and thoughtful woman standing toward an open window. It is not surprising that we find ourselves in the paintings of the painter in these days when we work and keep pace with flow of life from our homes: We feel intimate with Hopper’s paintings during the epidemic period when we all return to ourselves in our rooms and homes.

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Early Sunday Morning, 1930

Nighthawks is a painting depicting the solitude and silence shared by a group of people. In addition to Nighthawks, the artist has many paintings rendering individual loneliness. Hopper’s works such as “Morning Sun” and “A Woman in the Sun” also show lonely women in rooms. In “Morning Sun”, we see a thoughtful woman sitting alone in her room, and in “A Woman in the Sun” painting, again a lonely and thoughtful woman standing toward an open window. It is not surprising that we find ourselves in the paintings of the painter in these days when we work and keep pace with flow of life from our homes: We feel intimate with Hopper’s paintings during the epidemic period when we all return to ourselves in our rooms and homes.

The indoor spaces and empty streets in Hopper’s paintings remind us of the state of our streets during the quarantine. The empty street, closed shops and restaurants in the “Early Sunday Morning” are quite familiar to us. Hopper painted the “Early Sunday Morning” in 1930; exactly at the time of the Great Economic Depression. The gloomy atmosphere of the painting, empty shops and streets are said to reflect the impact of the Great Economic Depression on the city. Considering that one of the effects of the pandemic is the global economic difficulties, Hopper’s desolate streets, closed shops and our deserted streets, restaurants and shopping centers are no stranger to each other.

Sarah Kelly Oehler, curator of American Art at the Chicago Art Institute, add another interpretation to Hopper’s Nighthawks: “… Perhaps Hopper sees this illuminated dining table not as a place with isolated people but as a glimmer of hope lighted by people who are able to come together despite the mercilessness and intolerableness of the outside.” Although we feel the loneliness and longing for a lively social life in Hopper’s paintings, this interpretation of Oehler becomes a beacon of hope for the lovers of the famous painter as we enter a new year.