The preparatory sketches for separately focus on the man-made objects and the surrounding environment; it is only in the later studies that the three-pump station and the wilderness are merged to compose the unique setting we find in the completed work The painting of a late twilight atmosphere, the precise moment when the decline of natural light subtly enhances the different sources of artificial light, is not derived from some true-to-life observation but is imagined by Hopper.
Yet this choice derives from practical difficulties rather than artistic intention.
, this oneiric evocation of a gas station on the American roadside follows European émigré Humbert’s description of a cloudy landscape that reminds him of European painters Claude Lorrain’s and El Greco’s horizons We had stopped at a gas station, under the sign of Pegasus, and [Lolita] had slipped out of her seat and escaped to the rear of the premises while the raised hood, under which I had bent to watch the mechanic's manipulations, hid her for a moment from my sight” (Nabokov, 211).
Under the flying horse, Humbert’s partial view of the busy attendant along with his companion’s momentary disappearance to the back of the premises completes the picture.
Added to the imagined elements in the painting is the appearance of a solitary man who has no model in real life. However, the man represented here is not just a figment of Hopper’s imagination.
In reference to one of the final studies, he is identified by the artist’s wife as “the son of Capt.
A decade earlier, both the artist and the writer had driven through the American continent in the summer and each in their respective media captured the beauty of the American roadside—often from the vantage point of their automobile—in a manner that stands at odds with the stark realism of most photographic and painterly representations of the time.
Hopper’s reads as the verbal rendition of that tension.
“He’s painting in the studio entirely now,” Jo Hopper writes.
“Lots more comfortable—but much harder to do,” she adds (Levin, 1995b, 328).