Joseph Stella

The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme
1939

On view
Floor 7

To Italian-born Joseph Stella, who immigrated to New York at the age of nineteen, New York City was a nexus of frenetic, form-shattering power. In the engineering marvel of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he first depicted in 1918 and returned to throughout his career, he found a contemporary technological monument that embodied the modern human spirit. Here, Stella portrays the bridge with a linear dynamism borrowed from Italian Futurism. He captures the dizzying height and awesome scale of the bridge from a series of fractured perspectives, combining dramatic views of radiating cables, stone masonry, cityscapes, and night sky. The large scale of the work—it is nearly six feet tall—conjures a Renaissance altar, while the Gothic style of the massive pointed arches evokes medieval churches. By combining contemporary architecture and historical allusions, Stella transformed the Brooklyn Bridge into a twentieth-century symbol of divinity, the quintessence of modern life and the Machine Age.

Artist
Joseph Stella

Title
The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme

Date
1939

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Oil on canvas

Dimensions
Overall: 70 1/4 × 42 3/16 in. (178.4 × 107.2 cm)

Accession number
42.15

Credit line
Purchase

Rights and reproductions information
© artist or artist’s estate



Audio

  • Where We Are, Kids

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    0:00

    Narrator: Artist Joseph Stella moved to America from a small village in Italy and fell in love with the skyscrapers, subways, and bridges of New York City. They were all so impressive! Stella painted the Brooklyn Bridge several times over the years, visiting it like an old friend. 

    Here, he captures its sweeping cables, glittering lights, bustling traffic, and spectacular views.

    Imagine that you've just stepped into the painting—maybe with someone who’s never seen New York City before. This massive bridge is almost shaking with energy. Look around. Find the city sparkling ahead of you. Notice the different types of lights Stella added to the top and in between the openings of the bridge. They might remind you of the stars above. Or maybe the headlights of cars rushing across the bridge, or the bright lights of theater on Broadway. 

  • Where We Are, Kids, Spanish

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    0:00

    Narrador: El artista Joseph Stella se mudó a Estados Unidos desde un pueblito de Italia y se enamoró de los rascacielos, los trenes subterráneos y los puentes de la ciudad de Nueva York. ¡Eran tan impresionantes! Stella pintó el Puente de Brooklyn en varias ocasiones a lo largo de los años y lo visitó como si fuera un viejo amigo.

    En esta obra, el artista captura los inmensos cables, las luces parpadeantes, el tráfico bullicioso y las vistas espectaculares de su querido puente.

    Imaginen que acaban de entrar dentro de la pintura, quizás junto a alguien que nunca antes ha visitado Nueva York. Este grandioso puente parece casi vibrar de energía. Miren a su alrededor. Observen la ciudad parpadeando delante de ustedes. Fíjense en los distintos tipos de luces que Stella añadió en la parte superior y entre las aberturas del puente. Es posible que les recuerden a las estrellas que hay en el cielo. O quizás a los faros delanteros de los autos que cruzan el puente a toda velocidad o a las luces brillantes de los teatros de Broadway.

  • Where We Are, Spanish

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    0:00

    Narrador: El artista Joseph Stella vio por primera vez el Puente de Brooklyn cuando llegó a Nueva York desde un pueblito del sur de Italia. Al principio, lo asombraron las maravillas tecnológicas de la ciudad. El puente era un símbolo emblemático de las posibilidades que ofrecía el nuevo mundo: grandiosas y aterradoras al mismo tiempo. Muchas noches Stella visitaba la vasta extensión de la pasarela peatonal del puente. Más tarde escribió: “Me conmovió profundamente, como si me encontrara en el umbral de una nueva religión”.

    Henri Petroski es Profesor de Ingeniería Civil Aleksandar S. Vesic de la Universidad Duke.

    Henri Petroski: Los cables que dominan el cuadro son los cables de suspensión. El Puente de Brooklyn fue un puente de suspensión realmente innovador. Fue diseñado por John Roebling, el ingeniero civil que quiso conectar Brooklyn con Nueva York, dos ciudades separadas por el río Este.

    La perspectiva de Stella es, fundamentalmente, la impresión que  uno tiene cuando cruza el puente caminando. La pasarela peatonal elevada está envuelta en estos cables, así que uno se encuentra inmerso en una red de cables y alambres, y es realmente un entorno muy espectacular.

    La pasarela del Puente de Brooklyn es una de los paseos más emblemáticos del mundo. Cruzar el puente a pie y acercarse a Manhattan andando es algo que es difícil de reproducir en cualquier otra parte. Permite reflexionar sobre la magnitud de la ciudad, sobre los logros de los ingenieros y arquitectos que han hecho de esta ciudad lo que es hoy. La gente que camina por la pasarela en sentido contrario o en el mismo sentido que uno también sirve de recordatorio de la gran diversidad de la ciudad. Sin duda es una experiencia sencillamente espectacular.

  • America Is Hard to See

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme, 1939

    0:00

    Narrator: Artist Joseph Stella first saw the Brooklyn Bridge when he arrived in New York from a small town in southern Italy. He was struck by the technological wonders of the city. The bridge was an iconic symbol of the possibilities of the new world—simultaneously grand and frightening. Many nights, Stella visited the vast expanse of the bridge’s walkway. He later wrote, “I felt deeply moved, as if on the threshold of a new religion.”

    Henri Petroski is the Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering at Duke University.

    Henri Petroski: The cables that dominate this picture are the suspension cables. The Brooklyn Bridge was really a ground-breaking suspension bridge. It was designed by John Roebling, the civil engineer who wanted to connect Brooklyn and New York, which were then separate cities across the East River.

    Stella's perspective is essentially the impression you get as you walk along the bridge. The elevated walkway is cradled in these cables, so you’re caught in this net of cables and wires and it’s really a very spectacular setting.

    The Brooklyn Bridge walkway provides one of the classic walks in the world. To walk across the bridge and to approach Manhattan at a walking pace is something that is hard to reproduce anywhere else. It gives you ample time to reflect upon the magnitude of the city, the achievements of the engineers and architects who made the city what it is. The people walking on the walkway coming towards you, walking with you, also remind you of the real diversity of the city. It’s just a spectacular, spectacular experience.



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