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“Nightlife” by Motley and “Nighthawks” by Hopper Essay

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2021


American art has a variety of works that display the daily lives and issues of individuals. By contrasting two paintings with a similar theme, one can get a more comprehensive understanding of the artist’s techniques and design elements applied to convey a specific meaning and atmosphere. This paper aims to compare two paintings from the Art Institute Chicago – Nightlife by Archibald Motley and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, both showcasing a night in a city but in a different manner.

Nightlife and Nighthawks

Both paintings are currently displayed in the Art Institute Chicago and have similar themes portrayed by the artists. Images 1 and 2 display the two works in question. In Nighthawks, one can witness a quiet street and a restaurant window in the evening, while in Nightlife, a cabaret and its visitors are the centers of attention (“Nighthawks”; “Nightlife”). The first painting is rather peaceful and calming due to the techniques used by the author, which will be discussed in detail in the following paragraphs. The latter is lively and vibrant, which is due to the color and patterns used by Motley.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.
Image 1. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (“Nighthawks”).
Nightlife by Archibald Motley.
Image 2. Nightlife by Archibald Motley (“Nightlife”).


Hopper created Nighthawks in 1942, aiming to display his perception of contemporary life in America. One can argue that the street and the four people in the diner who do not seem to communicate are a part of the artist’s perception of the loneliness in the urban society. The nightlife was painted in 1943 by Archibald Motley in Chicago, representing the artist’s view of life in the city (“Nightlife”). This painting is an essential component of African-American art.

Medium and Technique

A vital element of any artwork that determines the techniques and visual outcomes of the artists’ work is the materials used in the process of creation. According to the Art Institute in Chicago, both Hopper and Motley’s Work are oil on canvas (“Nightlife”). However, the works analyzed in this paper differ significantly because the artist used different techniques. Hopper applied perspective to separate a viewer from the scene. This is enhanced by the window of the diner through which the main picture can be seen.

Both paintings have significant due to their use of color and light that create vibrancy. Nighthawks creates an atmosphere of a dark street and a well-lit diner, a sharp contrast that the artist was able to achieve. This is enabled by the light portrayal that showcases artificial lights used in the restaurant. Due to the artist’s use of shapes and color, Nightlife displays a lively scene where people are dancing and drinking. It creates a dynamic within the painting that a viewer can witness, as a contrast to the calm street view in Nighthawks. The specific features of people in Motley’s art cannot be viewed, which is part of the portrayal of artificial light.

Design Elements

Unarguably, both paintings have distinct features in the form of color that the artists choose. Color and shape are design elements that allow artists to convey hue and of a component or its dimensions. In Nightlife, burgundy is the primary color that unifies different aspects of this work. Shapes or enclosed objects in Nighthawks are simplified since no complex figures are painted. Nighthawk is distinguished by its use of green color that contrasts with brown of the diner’s table and its signboard. It should be noted that the similarities in light and color that both Motley and Hopper use in their works are facilitated by the fact that Hopper’s painting initially inspired Nightlife (“Nightlife”). However, this piece differs due to patterns that Motley uses to showcase the dancers in the cabaret.

Personal Analysis

Both Hopper and Motley created skillful works displaying their view of the nighttime activities in their cities. The differences in the mood that each painting has and the atmosphere prove that both artists are incredibly talented. Both paintings appeal to me because they convey a different meaning. In my opinion, the calm atmosphere portrayed in Nighthawks and the people sitting in the diner are a reflection of modern life in an urban city.

On the other hand, in Nightlife, one can see an event where people are enjoying their lives and dancing. This element is evident due to the vibrant burgundy color that Motley uses, which adds to the overall atmosphere. The author was able to make a distinct impression with his work and differentiate it from others by using different techniques discussed above. A vital element of the two paintings is that they were created a year apart from each other. However, they contrast significantly in the original idea and its execution. Therefore, I do like what I see in both paintings.


Overall, this paper aimed to compare two paintings – Nightlife and Nighthawks. Both are very similar in terms of technique but differ in regards to the theme and atmosphere created by the artists. The light and colors used by Hopper and Motley are exceptional and allow to convey a particular meaning of each piece. Thus, both artists are talented, and their works are an essential part of American art.

Works Cited

Art Institute Chicago. Web.

Art Institute Chicago. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021) '"Nightlife" by Motley and "Nighthawks" by Hopper'. 2 June.

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