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Joseph Stella

The Brooklyn Bridge: Variation on an Old Theme
1939

On view
Floor 7

Date
1939

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Oil on canvas

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

Accession number
42.15

Credit line
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase

Rights and reproductions
© artist or artist’s estate

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.






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