Joseph Stella
Bridge, 1936

The theme of the industrial and technological power of the United States, embodied in the engineering masterwork of the Brooklyn Bridge, was one that Stella explored repeatedly.

The overall composition of Bridge calls to mind an altarpiece. Massive cables arc upward, and we glimpse indistinct city skyscrapers through the archways. Framing the bottom of the painting (like a predella, the base of an altar) are black, gray, electric-blue, and luminous yellow circles representing subways — the veins and arteries that connect the inhabitants of New York’s vast landscape.

Stella became associated with the Italian futurists, who celebrated modern technology and the power of speed and energy, during a three-year span in Europe. It had a profound effect upon his painting. When he returned to the United States in 1912 he began to paint large canvases of the New York cityscape infused with light, color, and motion. Over the remainder of his artistic career Stella oscillated among several different working methods, but he is remembered primarily for his futurist works such as Bridge.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Artist name
Joseph Stella
Date created
oil on canvas
50 1/8 in. × 30 1/8 in. (127.32 cm × 76.52 cm)
Collection SFMOMA
The United States General Services Administration, formerly Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration (WPA), allocation to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Permanent URL
Artwork status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: SFMOMA's Collection, 1900 to Now

Audio Stories

How was the young artist inspired by New York?

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The pointed Gothic arches at the top of this painting immediately suggest stained-glass windows, and Joseph Stella’s interpretation of the Brooklyn Bridge is indeed almost an altarpiece of Modernism in praise of the metropolitan landscape. Let your eyes follow the glistening main cables upward to the distant skyscrapers, which are indistinct against a clear blue sky. Notice the rigid, symmetrical tower, with its twin arches. It rises above a row of halo-like circles along the bottom edge. To Stella, these represented the subways and pipes—the veins and arteries of the city. Stella was born in Italy, but arrived in New York City in 1896. He was nineteen, and the energy and power of this great American metropolis must have been a revelation. Stella returned to this subject often, painting this version in 1936 on a Federal commission.

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