Conference at Night
Conference at Night
Oil on canvas
28 1/4 x 40 5/16 in.
Wichita Art Museum, Roland P. Murdock Collection
Currently on Display
About the Artwork
Conference at Night pulls the viewer into a story: the setting is in a large open room whose beamed ceiling is supported by columns, a stark, mostly dark space furnished by four sturdy wooden tables upon which three bolts of colored cloth have been casually laid; the action is comprised of a bald man in shirt sleeves, seated casually on one of the tables, gesturing with raised hand and seemingly speaking to a man and a woman standing side-by-side before him; the standing man, whose figure is seen from the back, is dressed in outdoor street clothing of overcoat and fedora pushed casually back off the forehead; the woman, who wears a straight black dress with narrow white collar and plunging v-neckline, stands rigidly at attention, her strong features and sleekly styled blond hair seen in sharp profile. This tableau of three figures is illuminated by a bright, cool-toned shaft of light streaming in from a window located behind the seated man. Conference’s inexplicable yet palpable urgency grips the viewer, but even after extended contemplation, denies resolution.
Numerous critics and exhibitions have documented the influence of stage sets and popular American cinema upon Hopper’s depictions of the urban scene, often citing this image as a prime example. Film historian Peter Wollen identified Conference at Night as one of many Hopper paintings that look like scenes in movies that one has come in on in mid-screening. The viewer feels that the vignette must have a before and after; it feels like a momentary flash in an on-going mystery. Writer and Hopper’s close friend Brian O’Doherty noted that Conference directly referenced the hallmarks of the era’s popular gangster movies, or film noir, in its lighting, bleak urban setting and hard-faced characters.
This painting is classic Hopper in its theme of voyeuristic glimpses of the city at night and its masterful exposition of such favored compositional devices as an open window, a near-empty room in a utilitarian structure, strongly-directed light from an unseen source, and anonymous figures engaged in some undefined yet intense social exchange to create an arresting psychological drama. Conference at Night furnishes one of the four superb examples of work in the Wichita Art Collection by an artist who is one of the greats of twentieth century painting.