My chief interest, I think, has always been colour, but not flat crude colour, it must be colour within colour, it has to shine; light must be in it.
Grace Cossington Smith 19651
Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in building is a dynamic image of one of Australia’s most iconic landmarks under construction. One of a number of artists who recorded the development of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Cossington Smith transformed the scene into a synthesis of industry and nature – of modern construction observed through radiating colour and bands of light. In The Bridge in building Cossington Smith has used contrasting colours of purple and orange to depict the angular structures of the bridge and crane. The sky is formed by concentric bands of luminous yellows and blues, with each brushstroke carefully placed on the canvas.
Between 1928 and 1930 Cossington Smith made a number of sketches of the bridge from Milson’s Point on the northern side of Sydney Harbour. She created ‘map-like’ drawings, carefully annotated with notes on colour and form. These studies were used to develop paintings of the bridge, such as The Bridge in-curve c.1930 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). Cossington Smith delighted in depicting the structure of the bridge, its formal architecture, and the counterbalance of steel and sandstone. In The Bridge in building she adopted a low viewpoint, accentuating the dramatic scale of the sandstone pylon and the arch of the bridge. She further emphasised the scale of the structure by including a group of workers on the top of the arch, the small figures appearing almost ant-like in contrast to the bridge’s large form.
A truly modern artist, Cossington Smith celebrated the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a work-in-progress, documenting what was for many Sydney residents a symbol of energy and hope during the years of the Great Depression. Indeed, The Bridge in building is a celebration of modernity – a modern subject approached in a modern style.
1 Grace Cossington Smith, interview by Hazel de Berg, 16 August 1965, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, transcript, p.1484.