Edward Hopper (American, 18821967)
Oil on canvas; 48 1/4 x 60 1/4 in. (122.6 x 153 cm)
George A. Hearn Fund, 1931 (31.62)
Tables for Ladies places the viewer directly outside the front window of an ordinary restaurant in New York City. The viewer's gaze is directed past the menu cards and the vividly painted foods in the window display and the waitress who leans forward to adjust them, into an interior of polished wood, tiled floors, and wall mirrors where a man and woman eat and a cashier attends to business at her register. Hopper painted this large canvas in the studio, working from sketches that he had made of local restaurants. Yet despite the bright lighting and the warm, even garish, colors, this is not a particularly festive scene. The two diners chat between themselves, but the cashier and the waitress are lost in their separate thoughts and duties. As in many of his works, Hopper indirectly comments on the loneliness and weariness that so many city dwellers experience.
Despite Hopper's reluctance to assign historical context to his work, this painting also speaks of several social changes of the era. For example, it represents the new roles that women were occupying in public; both the cashier and the waitress, for example, are women working outside the home. The title also alludes to a recent social innovation, in which dining establishments advertised "tables for ladies" in order to welcome their newly mobile female customers. In the past, it had often been assumed that women appearing alone in restaurants or bars were prostitutes in search of business; now, dining on their own or with other women, they would be treated respectfully. In addition, the date of this painting serves as a reminder that Hopper was living in New York during the Great Depression, when many Americans could not afford to dine out, even at such an unpretentious establishment as this one.