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art study of night shadows by edward hopper

Updated on December 6, 2013


I conducted an art study in my art history course of edward hopper's night shadows. The assignment was to investigate a body in a piece of artwork and present a formal art analysis based on this body.

Night Shadows is a surreal image that depicts a man gracefully walking down a sidewalk in the dead of night. This sidewalk connects the lonesome street with the building the man is passing. The darkness and the lone figure suggest themes of isolation, solitude, and despair. In my analysis, I will explore characteristics relating to color, space, lines, and scale and discuss how these characteristics can be used to determine the message Hopper wishes to convey through this work of art.

Night Shadows, Edward Hopper, 1921
Night Shadows, Edward Hopper, 1921


Firstly, the lack of color suggests Hopper was not trying to make this artwork majestic and beautiful. Instead, Hopper uses black and white to create shadows and emphasize certain areas of the work. For instance, the area of space directly in front of the man is well lit and contains very little black, except for the shadow from a pole that projects onto the sidewalk. This well-lit area might suggest that the future of the man appears bright, or that the man is heading in the right direction. However, around the corner is just another area of darkness, suggesting the man will go right back into whatever he came from. It is also worth noting that the man himself is completely black. The only glimmer of light comes from his top hat. This black keeps the viewer from distinguishing the man’s features. If it wasn’t for the light colored top hat, it would be hard to tell if this was a man, woman, or child.


The angle from which the viewer looks at the image conveys a sense of three-dimensional space. The viewer is hovering above the image as if they are a bird. Instead of being directly above the sidewalk, the viewer is looking from a short distance above the street. From this angle, the viewer gets a clear sense of three dimensions. For instance, the viewer can see the street and sidewalk wrapping around the building. Furthermore, it is possible to distinguish the man’s right leg from his left leg: the right leg is forward and slightly closer to the building than the left leg. There is no evidence of stacking or flatness to this image. By showing only the back of the gentleman walking along the sidewalk, Hopper allows the viewer to use their imagination to envision what this man’s face might look like or what the expression on his face may be.

More Edward Hopper Art


The use of straight, dark lines gives a general sense of direction to this image. The lines on the sidewalk are parallel to the sidewalk. By using lines parallel to the sidewalk, Hopper suggests that the sidewalk is the main way in which this lonely man is going to get somewhere. The lines on the street and the building form a checkerboard pattern, suggesting the man will not be traveling onto the street or into the building. A diagonal is formed on the sidewalk from the shadow of a pole on the street. This shadow is something the man must cross if he continues to walk on the sidewalk. The shadow itself may represent some form of obstacle in this man’s path that he must eventually come face-to-face with.


Hopper uses scaling to make the man appear to be much smaller than other objects in the image. For example, the sidewalk the man is walking down is very wide compared to the man. Additionally, the height of the building stretches up and out of the image. Even the man’s own shadow is slightly larger than the man itself. These observations suggest this man to be inferior when compared to the rest of the world. In other words, Hopper might be trying to say that one man is very small compared to the rest of the world. Hopper may also be using this scaling to emphasize the loneliness and desolation facing this man. The two side-by-side blinds from the building look like eyes that are veering over the man getting ready to snatch him as he walks by.


Hopper’s Night Shadows contain many characteristics of color, space, lines, and scale to suggest themes and messages that Hopper may have been trying to convey in his artwork. The darkness and shadows are emphasized by the black color. The bend in the sidewalk and the position of the man’s feet suggest this image to be three-dimensional. The dark, straight lines give this image a sense of direction. Finally, the scaling of the building and sidewalk in comparison to the man suggest this man to be weak and inferior in this world.


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