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image icon 'The Bridge', 1930

'The Bridge', 1930
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Description

This is an oil painting, measuring 60.0 cm x 81.0 cm, by Dorrit Black (1891-1951). It was painted in 1930 and shows Sydney Harbour in the late 1920s when the Harbour Bridge was still under construction. The Bridge - which is shown front-on, making it possible to see the extent of the construction - occupies the top of the image. There is a substantial gap between the two halves as they stretch out from opposite points of land. A crane is visible on the top edge of the right arch and a four-masted ship is positioned in the harbour near the left arch. Apart from a couple of windows in the closest houses, an electricity pole nearby, some wriggly lines to signify water and a few suggested details on the ship and bridge girders, there is very little actual detail in the work. Some of the edges of the bridge, houses and ship are very sharp, and sometimes shadow lines (like the drop shadows generated in computer graphics) have been added to make these edges stand out even further. There are some curving lines that divide the water into sail-like shapes and other similar lines next to the right-hand section of the bridge.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a painting by Dorrit Black (1891-1951), who studied (particularly Cubist art) in both London and Paris in the late 1920s; until her death in 1951 she continued to make a significant contribution to the Australian art community by teaching, promoting and practising the philosophy of modernism, initially in Sydney in the 1930s, and then in Adelaide in the 1940s
  • is a significant work of art by an Australian woman artist - from 1925 to 1945 a number of Australian women artists, including Margaret Preston (1875-1963), Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984), Nora Heysen (1911-2003), Thea Proctor (1879-1966), Dorrit Black (1891-1951), Grace Crowley (1890-1979) and Joy Hester (1920-60), explored new ideas about art (often in the face of conservative male opposition) to extend painting and printmaking in ways that challenged other artists and Australian audiences
  • is painted in a Cubist style - most Australian modernist artists of the early 20th century (including Black) were influenced by a style of art called Cubism; Cubism is the name given to a new form of painting developed by Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), who worked mainly in Paris between 1908 and 1913; the French artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954) once commented that paintings of buildings by Braque were composed of 'petit cubes' (little cubes); an art critic later used the phrase 'bizarrieries cubiques' (cubic eccentricities) to describe some of Braque's work, and the name 'Cubism' stuck
  • demonstrates Black's understanding of Cubist principles - Black studied in Paris under AndrĂ© Lhote (1885-1962), a French artist well known for his teaching founded on principles of Cubism; Black also attended a summer school organised by Lhote at Mirmande, a small village in the south of France; one of Black's paintings of this village is composed entirely of blocks; elements of a Cubist approach to landscape can be seen in the simplification of forms in 'The Bridge', such as in the houses and trees in the foreground, the compression or flattening of distance, and the division of areas (as seen in the water) into sudden shifts in colour and shading
  • demonstrates Black's particular skill in creating a sense of energy; the edges of objects in 'The Bridge' are razor sharp and there are sudden extremes of light and dark; the colours look artificial and there are many lines of connection (verticals, horizontals, diagonals and curves) that are guaranteed to keep the eye moving from one point to the next, as seen in the curves that run across the water to draw the eye into the 'tension zone' between the two advancing arches
  • is a painting of Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction - 'The Coat Hanger', as it is affectionately known in Australia, is the world's largest steel arch bridge; its construction began in 1926 and was completed in 1932; the two half-arches were built out progressively from each shore, held back by 128 cables anchored underground in U-shaped tunnels; the crane on the right of the work was one of the two creeper cranes that laid the arch sections
  • is one of a number of early-20th-century works of art that document and celebrate the building of Sydney Harbour Bridge; the painters, printmakers and photographers who recorded the Bridge in some way include Gwen Barringer (1882-1960), Roland Wakelin (1887-1971), Jessie Traill (1881-1967), Dorrit Black (1891-1951), Harold Cazneaux (1878-1953), Margaret Preston (1875-1963) and Grace Cossington Smith (1892-1984)
  • captures a sense of the Sydney community's excitement about the Bridge and its construction - for many people the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a symbol of hope during the Great Depression; the print media, cinema and radio all actively covered its construction; the modern look of Black's interpretation matched a broad community appreciation of the Bridge as a symbol of Australia becoming a modern nation.