Bridges  in  Art

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Bridges are found in art for many reasons, often reflecting the ideas of an age.

We wouldn't normally class Giotto as a painter of bridges, but his use of structures to frame parts of scenes, or to create scale, is masterly. Well, it's just an excuse to mention his wonderful pictures, such as the St Francis paintings in the church of San Francesco, Assisi. In the Dream of Innocent III, the saint appears to be defending a building against an earthquake. Unfortunately, the church of San Francesco was one of many buildings in Assisi which were damaged by an earthquake near the end of the 20th century.

 

Elegant arches appear in "The Annunciation" of 1437 by Fra Angelico, beautifully painted to portray the subtleties of light and shade.

"The Tempest" made by Giorgione in 1503, has a trestle bridge in the background, which does a good job of dividing the near background from the far background. In spite of strangeness of the picture, the bridge and the other objects are given a realistic treatment that actually contributes to the effect.

El Greco's "View of Toledo" doesn't even show the whole town.  Advice on photography often refers to "the rule of thirds", which really means "Don't put the subject plumb in the middle".  If you believe in things like that, you can see a fortified bridge and a church spire in perfect balance.  You can also see how the road leads from bottom left to top right, providing a rotational symmetry that is far from static, to emphasise the turmoil of the dark storm.  The symmetry is also enhanced by the plants in the foreground, which reflect the movement of the clouds.  Like many a real storm, the darkness of this one serves to bring out an unnatural brightness in the landscape.  This tremendous picture is full of movement.

 

In the 17th century "Claude le Lorrain" has a multi-arched bridge in the background of "The Finding of Moses" of around 1638.  Since the entire scene, including the bridge, looks as if the artist might have been painting a local scene, and not some place in Egypt, we have to wonder whether the objects in the picture have symbolic significance, or whether they just fill out the background.

In the 18th century we find Giovanni Canaletto including numerous bridges in pictures of Venezia and London.  Francesco Guardi depicts an interesting foot-bridge in "Canale di Cannaregio".

In the Britain of the 19th century, the industrial revolution was seen by some as a dramatic and a romantic era, and its larger structures often figured in pictures.

On the other hand, they could form a part of the background to idyllic or bucolic scenes, where they could be used to separate spaces or form a frame.

Whistler's "Nocturne in Black and Gold", showing a part of Battersea bridge over the river Thames by night, seems to have upset a number of people, though it is wonderfully atmospheric. Another atmospheric picture, also depicting fireworks and a bridge, is "Fireworks over a bridge" by Hiroshige, from One Hundred Famous Views in Edo (1856-1858). A large trestle bridge crosses the middle ground, combining with the far bank of the river to create the composition. Both pictures are linked below.

Although Hiroshige's humanity shines through all his pictures, he was happy to include almost any type of object in his pictures, including many bridges. This is almost inevitable, given the amount of water in Japan's lowlands. The treatment is varied; one picture (Man on horseback crossing a bridge) shows tired figures crossing a bridge in silhouette at the end of the day: another (A sudden shower over Ohashi and Atake) shows people caught out by heavy rain.

Hokusai may not have used bridges as often as Hiroshige, but he used them to good effect. No wonder that artists like these were the cause of a wave of "Japonisme" that swept through parts of Europe.

The classical Japanese gardens were works of art, often completely artificial, yet cunningly planned to evoke nature. Many include streams and lakes, providing opportunities to include bridges, often at just the right places to see the best views. Flat wooden bridges might include sudden changes of direction, or even of level, to hint at the "right" places to stop and view the scene. These bridges were truly a part of huge works of art, which were sometimes designed to include aspects of the distant landscape (shakkei).

Some park bridges in England, like the parks themselves, often follow a very different ideal. The bridges are sometimes known as "Palladian". A good example is found at Wilton House in Wiltshire; others are found at Prior Park and Stowe. The bridge in Blenheim Park, by Vanbrugh, is a proper arch with a 100 foot span, in a completely different tradition, more like a real utility bridge. Public parks like Pittville Park in Cheltenham often include pleasant foot-bridges, some in masonry, others in wood.

Mary Cassatt's "In the Omnibus" inlcudes a bridge across a wide river in the background. This picture shows three people - a mother, a baby, and the nurse who is the bridge between them. They are isolated, as if no other people exist. They are indifferent to their surroundings, which themselves are passive, and indeed the mother seems to be in a world of her own. Only the nurse, attentive to the child, shows any sign of activity.

As the 20th century merged into the 21st, Japan was still producing beautiful bridges, some spans being among the longest in the world. Japan is unusual in possessing some brightly coloured bridges. In France also, you can see imaginative use of coloured bridges.

In the 20th century, when so many art "movements" and individual styles sprang up, the number of ways of depicting structures is legion. On the one hand we have "The Builders" of 1950, by Leger, we see a part of a steel-framed building in bold colours and strong outlines. On the other hand, in a picture by Paul Klee, we see a number of arches which seem to have become bored with their jobs, and are wandering about all over the place. Perhaps they are not unrelated to people doing identical, monotonous, and repetitive jobs.

In "Barges on the Thames" of 1906, three bridges gave Andr� D�rain the chance to put in some strong shapes and to provide a sense of depth.

Oskar Kokoschka's picture of Karluv Most, Praha is a well known picture in which a bridge is actually the main subject. He also made several pictures of London's Tower bridge.

Ben Nicholson did not include many actual bridges in his pictures, but his fascination with architectural forms led to many pictures of buildings with arches, from Rievaulx Abbey in the north, to Siena in the south. Objects as small as humble jugs excited his interest just as much, and he delighted in drawing their forms.

Jodi Rose is creating a sonic sculpture using recordings of the sounds of bridge cables around the world.

For some late 20th century and early 21st century pictures by Anney Bonney click here and click on Shaded Bandwidth pictures. The download files are large. Shaded Bandwidths is a new work which is related to Brooklyn bridge. Liz Phillips is creating an interactive installation with sound and movement.

 

As we can see in other parts of the Brantacan website, bridges can be art in themselves, not necessarily because a designer has added "artistic" bits, which don't always work, but because truth to the forces and materials, and indeed to economic forces, while keeping in mind the needs of people, can produce work which can excite the eye and the mind.

Nature, art and science are all creative, but in different ways. Try clicking here to see a picture by Vermeer. If you round a corner in a gallery, and find yourself in front of something like that, you may find, just as when you see something like the Clifton Suspension Bridge, that you eventually wonder - "How did they do that?" There is no point in pretending that the three types of creativity are similar, but it's certainly true that many artists have been sufficiently inspired by works of engineering and architecture to make them the subject of pictures.  

At the same time, we should remember that engineering and science are far more than simply plugging numbers into boring formulae. Just try creating a decent radio antenna using only a knowledge of Maxwell's equations. Or building a bridge using only a book of tables and formulae. It's just as difficult as writing a novel using only a dictionary.  But don't imagine that you can add a bit of "art" or "decoration" to make your structure original. It won't.

Let's end this panel with an arch structure which is beautifully simple, unassuming, and unpretentious, and fitted to its purpose. It is the Ecole Meyrin Vaudagne near Geneva.

 

Links  About  Paintings  and  Engravings  of  Bridges

Alphabetical list by artists

 

Anonymous - Uji bridge and willow

Anonymous - Women contemplating floating fans

Bascove - Bridges portfolio

Bascove - Queensborough bridge

Bonney - Shaded bandwidths

Brueghel, Pieter, the Elder - The dirty bridge

Buson - Willows on a riverbank after rain

Canaletto - Capriccio - a Colonnade opening on to the courtyard of a palace

Canaletto - Entrance to the arsenal

Canaletto - Grand Canal : Rialto

Canaletto - Lifting bridge

Canaletto - London : Westminster bridge from the north on Lord Mayor's Day

Canaletto - Old Walton Bridge - Weird triple arch-truss

Canaletto - Piazza San Marco seen from the north west corner

Canaletto - Rialto bridge

Canaletto - SS Giovanni e Paulo and the Scuola di San Marco

Canaletto - Westminster_bridge

Canaletto - Westminster bridge under repairs, and others

Canaletto - Wooden bridge

Cassatt - In the omnibus 

Cassatt - In the omnibus - bigger

Cassie - Singing Waters footbridge

C�zanne - Landscape with viaduct

C�zanne - Landscape with viaduct

Chagall - Bridge over the Seine

Chagall - Passy bridge and Eiffel tower

Constable - Chain Pier at Brighton

Constable - Flatford bridge

Constable - River Stour near Dedham

Constable - The Opening of Waterloo bridge

Corot - View of Saint Lo

Corot - The bridge at Mantes

Corot - The bridge at Nantes

Corot - View of Rome

Cotman - Greta bridge - British Museum

Delaunay - Saint Severin

D�rain - Barges on the Thames

D�rain - Charing Cross bridge

D�rain - London bridge

D�rain - London bridge

D�rain - Tower bridge

D�rain - Westminster bridge

Eakins - Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, or The Champion Single Sculls

    Interesting arch - truss bridges in the background

Eatwell - Severn bridge

El Greco - View of Toledo

Ellenshaw - Monet's Bridge

Feininger A - Brooklyn Bridge photograph

Frieder - Bridge photographs

Gainsborough - Wooded Upland Landscape with Bridge

Gel�e called Claude le Lorrain - Bridge

Gel�e called Claude le Lorrain - Brook and Two Bridges

Gel�e called Claude le Lorrain - The Finding of Moses

Gel�e called Claude le Lorrain - Le Pont de Bois

Giorgione - The Tempest

Giorgione - The Tempest

Giotto - St Francis renouncing the world

Giotto - Dream of Innocent III

Giotto - Exorcism of the demons from Arezzo

Guardi - Cannaregio canal

Guardi - Lock at Dolo on the Brenta

Guardi - Rialto bridge

Guardi - Rialto bridge - background

Guardi - Rialto bridge - foreground

Harunobu - Young girl crossing a bridge on a windy day

Haslehust - Two bridges

Heise - Meat market

Hiroshige - Book - Juzo and Smith - Prestel - ISBN 3-7913-1860-8 Fig 2 Plates 9 10 11 14 15 24 37 53 69 70 88 94 95 96 97 99 100 101 103 104 109 115 116 123 124 125 134 140 141 

Hiroshige -_Awate bridge

Hiroshige - Tokaido Road - Station 1 - Nihonbashi bridge

Hiroshige - Tokaido Road - Station 3 - Kawasaki

Hiroshige - Tokaido Road - Station 13 - Namazu

Hiroshige - Tokaido Road - Station 39 - Okazaki

Hiroshige - Tokaido Road - Station 44 - Yokaichi

Hiroshige prints

Hiroshige - Beauties beside the Sumida river - Ryogoku bridge - V and A

Hogarth - Chairing the member

Hokusai prints

Hokusai - Drum bridge

Hokusai - Autumn Evening Light at Choko

Hokusai - Bridge of boats

Hokusai - Bridge of the Brocade Sash

Hokusai - Nihon bridge - Edo

Hokusai - Bridge of the Reflected Moon - Arashiyama

Hokusai - Hida and Etchu suspended bridge

Hokusai - Kintaibashi

Hokusai - Temma bridge - Osaka

Hokusai - 100 Views of Mount Fuji

Hokusai - Vanity of Vanities

Hokusai - Famous bridges

Hokusai - Famous bridges

Hokusai - Book - Matthi Forrer - Prestel - ISBN 3-7913-1131-X - Plates 15 24 26 29 33 34 35 36 37 38 53 73 78 91 108 113 116 117 132

Holmes - Tyne bridge painting

Hopper - Queensborough bridge

Klee - Revolt of the Viaducts

Kokoschka_- Amsterdam

Korin - Irises and Bridge - pair of screens

Le Lorrain (Claude Gel�e) - Bridge

Le Lorrain (Claude Gel�e) - Brook and Two Bridges

Le Lorrain (Claude Gel�e) - The Finding of Moses

Le Lorrain (Claude Gel�e) - Le Pont de Bois

Levitsky - Queensborough bridge

Lozowick - Queensborough bridge

Macdonald - Queensborough bridge

Monet - Argenteuil, the bridge under repair

Monet - Argenteuil bridge - 1

Monet - Argenteuil bridge - 2

Monet - Waterloo bridge

Monet - Westminster bridge

Monet - Japanese style bridge

Monet - Water lily pond

Munch - The Scream

Nash - The Canal Bridge

Nicholson - Arches

Nicholson - Clifton Suspension bridge

Nicholson - Tuscan buildings

Phillips - Eckington bridge

Pissarro - Bridge at Charing Cross

Pissarro - Le Pont Boieldieu - temps mouill�

Pissarro - Le Pont Neuf - afternoon sun

Pissarro - Le Pont Neuf - a winter morning

Pissarro - Le Pont St Sever - Rouen - mist

Rembrandt - Landscape with stone bridge

Renoir - Bridge at Chatou

Ruisdael - Landscape with footbridge

Seurat - Bathers at Asni�res

Seurat - Bathers at Asni�res

Seurat - Le Pont de Courbevoie

Seurat - La Tour Eiffel

Sisley - Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne

Sisley - Bridge at Villeneuve-la-Garenne

Stella - Brooklyn Bridge

Turner - Edinburgh from Calton Hill

Turner - Grand Canal Venice

Turner - Bridge of Sighs - Ducal Palace - Custom House - Venice

Turner - Bridge in Carlisle - engraving

Turner - Bridge at Chepstow - engraving

Turner - Little Devils bridge - above Altdorf - Switzerland

Turner - Rail, Steam and Speed - The Great Western Railway

Turner - Watercolours of Venice

Van Eyck - The Madonna with the Chancellor Rolin

Van Gogh - Bridge at Langois, Arles

Van Gogh - Bridge at Arles

Van Gogh - Bridge at Arles

Van Gogh - Pont de la Grande Jatte - Paris

Van Gogh - Bridge in the rain - after Hiroshige

Van Gogh - Bridge at Trinquetaille

Van Gogh - Bridge at Meulan

Van Gogh - Footbridge across a ditch

Vlaminck - Bridge at Chatou etc

Willow pattern - the bridge is not in the Chinese original

Whistler - Nocturne in Black and Gold - Old Battersea Bridge, or Falling Rocket

Worsfold - Bridge of Dye

Worsfold - Castle Combe bridge

Wright - Sketch of bridge

The Mazarin Chest - V and A Toshiba gallery

The Van Diemen Box - V and A Toshiba gallery

Hirokage - Typhoon on Atarashi bridge - V and A Toshiba gallery

Sand - A Leonardo bridge on every continent

 

sonic sculpture

Alphabetical list by bridges

Bay bridge - Addison

Bewdley bridge - John H Instance

Bewdley bridge - J Neale

Bewdley bridge - 200 years - John H Instance

Bewdley bridge and St Anne's church - John H Instance

Bridge - Addison

Brig o' Doon - Charles Kelly

Brig o' Doon - Scottish Dance

Bridge of Dye - Adrian Worsfold

Bridge - Johns

Bridge to Light

Bridges and Rivers

Brooklyn bridge - Bonney - Shaded bandwidths 

Brooklyn Bridge - photograph - Feininger A

Brooklyn Bridge - Stella

Castle Combe bridge - Worsfold

Charing Cross bridge - D�rain

Clifton bridge under construction - photograph

Clifton Suspension bridge - Nicholson

Clopton's bridge - Stratford - Haslehust

Clopton's bridge - barn dance

Devil's bridge - Kirkby Lonsdale - Keith Melling

East Farleigh bridge - Richard Nicholson

Eckington bridge - Walter Phillips

Fingle bridge - Martin

Floating bridge

Greta bridge - John Sell Cotman - British Museum

High bridge - New York

Japanese style bridge - Monet

Japanese gardens

Light under the bridge

London bridge - D�rain

London bridge - D�rain

Lune Valley packhorse bridge

Monnow bridge

Newcastle arch bridge - Holmes

Newcastle bridges - Henshaw print

Ockery bridge - Haslehust

Palm Valley bridge - Diamond

Pont du Gard

Respryn bridge - Kerris

Rialto bridge - Canaletto

Rialto bridge - Guardi

Rialto bridge - background - Guardi

Rialto bridge - foreground - Guardi

Saint Paul's view

Severn bridge

Shimmering bridge

Singing Waters footbridge

Stourport bridge - John H Instance

Stourport bridge - J Neale

Tarr Steps

Tower bridge - D�rain

Tyne bridges - Henshaw print

Waterloo bridge opening - Constable

Westminster_bridge - Canaletto

Westminster bridge - D�rain

Westminster bridge - Monet

Worcester bridge -John H Instance

Bridges in Stamps

Excellent website about bridges on stamps

Bridges by country

Bridge stamps of the world

Bridge stamps

British 1968

Sydney Harbour bridge - 14th March 1932

Island - Skeidara bridge 1978

 

Bridge Sculptures

Fred Landsbergen - Vijf bruggen - Five bridges

Cor Litjens - Bronze bridge sculptures

Poems, Songs and Tunes

Sonic sculpture - Singing bridges

(trans) Ashman - Magdeburg bridge

Robert Burns - Tam o' Shanter

Robert Burns - Tam o' Shanter - analysis

Thomas Hardy - The Sacrilege - From Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries (a very small bridge)

Thomas Hardy - On Sturminster Foot-Bridge - From Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses

Thomas Hardy - The Harbour Bridge - From Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs and Trifles

Henry Longfellow - The Bridge

Lord Macaulay - Lays of Ancient Rome

Kipling - The Secret of the Machines

Paul Simon - Bridge Over Troubled Water

Irene Hixton Whitney bridge

William MacGonagall - The Tay Bridge Disaster

Will Allen Dromgoole - The Bridge Builder

The covered bridge

Gone but not forgotten

Highway 430 bridge

Hart Crane - Brooklyn bridge

Footbridge

Bridge over troubled waters

Bridges - Milton Nascimento - music

Bridges - Milton Nascimento - words in English

Ode to Billy Joe

The bridge - Joe Jackson

High level hornpipe

Sur le pont d'Avignon

Under the bridges of Paris with you

Underneath the arches

Newcastle Bridge - Tune

 

Bridges in Films

The history and engineering of bridges

The history and construction of Brooklyn bridge

The bridge in cinema - well worth reading

Long list of films

A bridge too far

Under the bridge

Girl on the bridge / La fille sur le pont

Lulu on the bridge

Over the Brooklyn bridge

Dumbarton bridge

The bridge over the river Kwai

Traffic on a London bridge - 1895 - 27 seconds

The bridges of Madison County

Occurrence at Owl Creek bridge

The bridge at Remagen

Tsing Ma bridge

Waterloo bridge