Automat (Hopper): A Modern Work Portraying Urban Loneliness

The Automat by Edward Hopper depicts a lady carrying her solitude with a cup of coffee at a subway. Without a formal meaning, this artwork invites viewers to assume several stories about the scene.

Automat (Hopper)

I intended to make you aware of something I wanted to tell you last weekend, but I was hoping to find the right time. Today, I found one. Previous Saturday, I went to our usual coffee shop with my brother. Near to us, there was a guy who was sitting alone in the whole crowded cafe. The usual gossip, giggling, and music overrode the entire aura of the surroundings. There was no attention to the boy’s desperate eyes or his loneliness between them. As far as I could tell, he wanted a company, and that’s what he was looking for. Sometimes I think that the earlier period was much easier to coordinate and meet people. Today, in our fast-growing world, cordial catchups, friendship discussions, and family reunions have become unconditionally alien to us. Our sense of self-containment has grown to the extent that it possesses us to form a giant entity of loneliness and abandonment. When this sense of this friendlessness haunts us, we surround ourselves with despair and misery. An American artist of the 20th century aptly captured this feeling in his famous work- The Automat Painting. In addition to analysing the entire artwork, we will reflect within ourselves to see if we have the same feelings about it.

Moving back in the pages of history, let us go on the brief life of the artist so that we know the basics of the Automat by Edward Hopper.

General Information About the Painting.

1. Artist Words.

“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.”

2. Subject Matter.

The subject matter of the painting includes a lady wearing a green-long coat and yellow hat, who sits on a circular piece of furniture and is about to sip her coffee from a cup. In the light of the background, it appears that the woman is alone in a subway at night. Hence, we understand that the Automat painting, in short, portrays urban loneliness, in an intelligible aspect through this impeccable setting. 

Automat painting by Edward Hopper

3. Artist.

Edward Hopper painted the Automat painting. He is an American artist born in New York in a middle-class family. Being a realist artist, Edward captured many emotions through his depictions of isolated landscapes, empty cityscapes and deserted figures. After completing his schooling, he made three trips to Europe between 1906-10, which influenced his artworks significantly. Previously when he was in school, his compositions included dark and old master techniques of New York interiors. Later he got inspired by the great European artists like Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt, which enabled the use of lights and quick strokes in his later compositions. 

4. Date.

The painting dates back to the year 1927. 

5. Provenance.

A little history about the painting is that during the year 1927 when he was painting the Automat, he was getting ready for his own show in New York. At the same time, he also worked in his studio to paint two other paintings alongside- Eleven A.M. and The City. For the Automat and Eleven A.M., he turned the subjects from his in-house model and actresses. Lastly, the composition of Automat where the woman pensively nurses a cup of coffee, recalls a seventeenth-century Dutch painting by Jan Vermeer, A Girl Asleep.

I will make sure that you have an in-depth learning of the historical context of the canvas in the later sections. 

6. Location.

The painting is on exhibition at Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA, US.

7. Technique and Medium.

The medium of the painting is oil on canvas. Edward uses a heap of light and shadows to create his own geometric perspective of any artwork. This painting, The Automat, illustrates Edward’s ability to create a sense of mystery and strangeness through sudden light and colour. Further, in the composition, he used line weight and excellent rendering of artificial lights. The artist is excellent in the portrayal of the subject with realism and in creating an impression of spontaneity through the judicious use of tonal subtlety.

ArtistEdward Hopper
Year Painted1927
MediumOil on canvas
MovementImpressionism and Modernism
Dimensions72.4 cm x 91.4 cm
WorthApprox. $18,720, Not on sale
Where is it housed?Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, IA, US

Automat (Hopper) | Fast Knowledge

Automat (Hopper) is a Modern painting that subjects a lady wearing a long coat and yellow hat who sits alone in a subway at night. The woman is about to sip coffee and has a tired facial expression, further exhibiting the loneliness in an urban environment. With unspecified meaning, Edward Hopper presented this artwork of his wife on 1927’s Valentine.

Now, let us understand the painting in detail. 

In-Depth Description of The Automat Painting.

About the Artist: Edward Hopper.

Edward Hopper is one of the foremost realist painters in America. His landscapes and scenes of small town streets, country farms and roads showcase twentieth-century America when modern life accelerated so much that the Americans were isolated from their homesteads. One of the fellow painters, Charles Burchfield, says,

“Posterity will be able to learn more about our life of today through looking at Hopper’s work than from all the social schools, political comments or screaming headlines of the present.”

We realized Edward was the first painter to highlight the darker side of America’s rapid growth, and isolation. 

American Painter Edward Hopper

Born in 1882 in Nyack, New York, a yacht-building centre on the Hudson River north of New York City, Edward’s father was a dry-goods merchant and his mother a housewife. At seven, his parents gifted him a blackboard for Christmas, which resulted in him turning it into his first easel. He used to sketch a lot on the board, which his mother carefully saved and dated them. And a few years later, he drew both of his parents. One of the crucial things to note from his childhood is that when he turned 12, his growth spurt left him more than six feet tall, and due to his agonizing self-consciousness, he became shyer and departed himself with other children. As a young man, he did several portraits in pen and ink, charcoal and watercolours and oil. In each of his self-portraits, he depicted his head slightly cocked with a wary gaze.

Edward, at a young age, wanted to become a ship designer, and he haunted Nyack’s shipyards throughout his adolescence. He was so fascinated with boats in his childhood that the first oil painting he sold at the famous Armory Show in 1913 was entitled Sailing. In 1889, when Edward graduated from Nyack High School, he gave up the idea of becoming a ship architect as he was determined to be an artist. Hence, in the 1900s, he moved to the New York School of Art and spent his six years there, concentrating on commercial art. He learnt with three best teachers there- Chase, Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller.

Now, that we know a little overview of the early days of the artist and how his artistic journey was shaped, let us move towards the next section to learn about the painting in detail.

History and Background of the Artwork.

The years between 1924-27 was the time when Edward got the reputation of an established painter. In 1926, Edward’s talent was recognised by most of the art critics, and there were several invitations to him for exhibition. When he exhibited at the Boston Arts Club, he took five oils painted in Paris in 1907, and in April at the St. Botolph Club in Boston, he showed nineteen watercolour paintings and twenty-one etchings. 

During the spring of 1926, Edward continued painting watercolours of lower Manhattan: Manhattan Bridge and Lily Apartments, Manhattan Bridge Entrance, Roofs of Washington Square, and Skylights. So, one can conclude that Edward was terrifically growing in his career during this phase of his life.

In 1927, when his show opened at the Rehn Gallery on Valentine’s Day, Edward opened the exhibition with his four oils paintings, as I previously told- Eleven A.M., Gloucester Street, Automat and The City, and dozens of watercolour paintings and a group of prints. Frederich W. Eddy, one of the critics of the New York World, noted,

“The success of Edward Hopper during the past few years has been the delight of these optimists who believe in eh future of American painting.”

However, one of the conservative Royal Cortissoz who has serious reservations carped,

“The oils are disappointing for the same reason that makes some of the watercolours unsatisfying, the touch is heavy, almost dragging. In both mediums, Mr Hopper suffers from seeing his subjects with a terribly prosaic literalness. The artist, said Whistler, is known by what he omits. This one makes a kind of dogged statement of fact, giving every detail the fullest possible view.”

However, even with all the reviews, the painting Automat was well received and enormously reviewed and appreciated. 

Understanding the Meaning of Automat by Edward Hopper.

The painting depicts isolation and urban loneliness. There might be several references to this painting. For instance, the artist might display how he always took a path to isolation and enjoyed his own company with sketchbooks in his childhood. And most importantly, the changing of American culture to a rapid growth stage let many people change their living standards. Unlike before, they were more prone to term urban loneliness. 

Knowing the Style of Automat Painting.

We have to approach the style and the period of the artwork to grasp the basics of it. Hence, we are preparing ourselves to get going. The Automat (Hopper) has Impressionism and Modernism styles of painting. 

Before you wonder and are confused about these two words, let me assure you that we will cover them so that you don’t bother switching to tabs and disturbing your quality reading time. 

What Is Impressionism?

Impressionism is an art movement that some Paris artists initiated and was at its peak in the 1870s and 80s. In this kind, there is a usage of small, thin, visible strokes with an accurate emphasis on light, often showcasing the effects of the passage of time. It consists of an ordinary subject matter, which in addition, is a crucial element of human perception and experience. There is a considerate usage of impasto( a thick layer of colour). The pure impressionist styles do not consist of black colour, but they use grey, which is produced by mixing complementary colours.

What Is Modernism?

It is a philosophical art movement, that grew out of broad alterations in Western art. It reflects the new society and beliefs, including industrialization, urbanization, architecture, and new technologies. It was more about self-awareness and rejecting religious beliefs.

When you have a brief idea of both techniques, let us go to the most awaited section of the article, subject matter analysis.

Subject Matter and Dominant Elements.

The woman is the subject of the artwork. She is sitting while her hat lies low over her forehead. In a furry winter coat with cuffs and a collar, she looks pretty beautiful with makeup on her face. Though her coat and hat do not look good together, she looked a bit tired and not up to date. She seems uncomfortable being alone in public places, which is evident from this composition. She invites all the viewers to like to assume stories for her, best suited for betrayal or loss. If you carefully see the surroundings, it feels like she calibrated removed from the social flow. Edward heightens the drama by showcasing a dark black window beside the woman with only a few lights, suggesting a proper cut from the outer world’s illuminance. It feels to me like a memory from the past. The environment reflects our inner dilemma when we are isolated but make ourselves seem normal from the outside. The strangely empty restaurant is the blunder of emptiness from inside. 

Automat (Hopper) Subject
The background and window lights of Automat by Edward Hopper

With the Automat painting, the artist not only painted a story but a moment, a little to be happenings with a giant message inside. The woman sitting in a gloomy condition by herself delivers the dark spell and emptiness. The reflections of light on the window show a tunnel which compelled nothingness, which exists in her isolation. As a viewer looks at this composition, he is immediately moved by the emotion that Edward depicted. His expressionist abstraction evoked a distinct ambience of loneliness and intensified the feeling of abandonment. Though, we can think of it as the woman in her own thoughts with no escape. There are no doors and only windows with few light reflections over. 

A closeup of Hopper's wife or the subject of Automat painting

The circular furniture adorns the completeness of the solitude. It is beautiful instead of broken or wretched. The lady looks trusting and invites empathy, though her trustworthiness is a little naive. 

A close up showing subject and furniture of The Automat

It is only a viewer who can fill the void in the entire composition. It lacks a stable point. The Automat (Hopper) asks to choose one between the woman and the window with lights. Hopper’s paintings are overwhelming and show connectivity through their subject and characters since it is identifiable. One more reason for it; is that the viewer echoes his own disappointments and griefs through seeing them.

Formal Analysis of Automat Painting.

1. Line.

There is a presence of a vertical line through a straight opened door and the boundary of the glass window, representing stability. However, it does have diagonal lines, which adds a heightened drama to the painting and exposes the instability of loneliness and a tense environment. Further, there are circular lines in the form of furniture and the attractive yellow hat curves of the lady.

Automat (Hopper) Analysis

2. Light and Value.

The painting Automat has a presence of dark and lighter hues. In the background, there are ominous darker shades of black with an illuminance of yellow lights in perspective, whereas returning to the main subject, we see a good illuminance. The painting does not represent disturbing lights, but it does tell us to fill the gaps of our current lives, tormented with forsakenness.

Edward Hopper Automat Black and White

3. Colour.

The painting consists of light and dark colours, representing emotions. There are colours of red, green and yellow in the artwork as the primary colours. There are a lot of soft colours without much intensity. The darkness of the window is dim, and the emerald green goat of the lady is muted, but the light reflection is intense. There is a bright illuminance on her shoulders and arms. Furthermore, her yellow hat provides an eye-catching element that attracts the viewer’s attention immediately.

The sky blue colour is dominant here, covering the top of the table, boundaries at the back and particularly the saucer and cup for a diligent emphasis on the artwork. The furniture, which is brown in colour, gives a bold look through the use of bright orangish-yellow. There is an essential black on the shadows, and windows, displaying despair and isolation.

The dominance of sky blue colour in different sections of Automat painting

Sales History & Future of Edward Hopper’s Automat.

Hopper displayed the Automat painting at Rehn Galleries in New York City on Valentine’s Day 1927, at the opening of his second solo exhibition. In April, the painting sold for $1,200 ($18,720 in 2021 dollars). The Des Moines Art Center owns the composition of Automat today.


In a world of enormous transitions, there are so many things left behind, and loneliness has no longer been a choice but an imposition in current scenarios. Edward’s paintings are the disclosure of our inner feelings, and so what the exquisite Automat (Hopper) did to us. The dark mood setting, sharper lines, dramatic colours and realistic touches are some of the exceptions, which Edward doesn’t fail to provide in this painting. 


1. Edward Hopper: An Illustrated Biography by Gail Levin.

2. Edward Hopper 1882-1967 Vision of Reality by Ivo Kranzfelder.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who painted the Automat?

Edward Hopper, an American realist painter, painted the Automat in 1927. The artist portrayed loneliness through a mixture of light and dark compositions and a woman staring at her coffee cup in a cafe.

When did Edward Hopper paint Automat?

The painting was commissioned by Hopper in 1927 and displayed at Rehn Galleries in New York City on Valentine’s Day the same year.

Who is the woman in the Automat painting?

Edward Hopper portrayed her wife Josephine Hopper in the artwork Automat.

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