I consider these three oils, representing people in restaurants, as a group or series in Hopper’s work. While the moods of the protagonists are variable and quite contrasting, Hopper used a very similar palette, and also a quite similar compositional approach in all the paintings. Moreover, his wife –Josephine Nivison– modelled for six of the nine ladies depicted in them (surely two –and perhaps all three– in the first, all three in the second, and also possibly for the busy waitress in the foreground of the third).
The first oil, New York Restaurant (1922), is the most crowded, animated and “noisy” of them all; and the one I like best, even if the others are very good too. Being the treatment of light equally masterly, there is a movement in that scene that both the others (purposely) lack; most especially the second, to the point of making it a bit frightening – to my eyes at least.
Chop Suey (1929), much more relaxed, is also more intriguing, aside of technically very daring (notice the strange framing of the scene, which looks arbitrarily cropped, like some awkward photography). The title of the work alludes to the name of a Chinese chain of popular inexpensive eateries in New York; one of which the Hoppers frequented. Here, as I have begun to comment above, there is some odd stillness; the red pot and blue bowl on the table –each one with its shadows–, the hats of the girls, the coat hanging between the windows and the neon sign outside seem to have rather more “life” than the human subjects themselves.
The last of these oils, Tables for Ladies (1930), shows us another restaurant; and another clock among many in Hopper’s oils (this one seems to indicate some five to ten minutes to eight, most probably p.m.) Its curious title refers to a social innovation from the late 20s, when many working women wanted to feel at ease eating out alone; so, some restaurants advertised “tables for ladies” in order to welcome their female customers (who, until then, if seen dining alone, were assumed to be prostitutes).
[Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, MI, USA]
(I am sorry I cannot assure that the original size is the one I am giving in the caption, but the Muskegon Museum does not provide any reference on its website, and all my search online have proved quite vain with respect to reliable sources.)
[Barney A. Ebsworth private collection]
[The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, USA]