Telling the Story of a Nation

American Cities: Hopper

32-cent Nighthawks stamp
The 32-cent stamp featuring "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper was issued August 27, 1998.

Edward Hopper, a twentieth century American painter, is known for his ability to depict the urban lifestyle. Born in New York, Hopper is regarded as one of America’s greatest scene painters. He often painted scenes that illustrated alienation and isolated individuals in modern settings.

Due to his great fame, the Postal Service featured Hopper’s work on a stamp in the Four Centuries of American Art Issue. Howard Paine originally wanted to use Hopper's piece “House by the Railroad” for the stamp. However, the Museum of Modern Art, the institution that owns the painting, would not allow Paine to crop the image for use on a postage stamp. Ultimately, he used Hopper’s 1942 creation “Nighthawks.” Regarded as one of Hopper's most famous images, it shows four city dwellers at a small diner. The light from the establishment brightens up the dark street, and a man sits alone, a symbol of the loneliness of the city.

Of all twenty pieces of art included in the Four Centuries of American Art Issue, the stamp designers had to crop this image significantly more than the other nineteen images. Many thought the full painting did not “read at stamp size.” Only the couple in the diner and the employee are shown on the stamp. Paine commented on the cropping of the work, “The result is that it doesn’t convey the loneliness that the whole painting has."