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George Bellows and New York, 1900–1930

George Bellows
American, 1882-1925

The Bridge, Blackwell’s Island

1909
Oil on Canvas
Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey, 1912.506

The young George Bellows painted this view of Queensboro Bridge (also known as the 59th Street Bridge) in New York City shortly after the massive construction project’s completion in 1909. Linking Manhattan to the borough of Queens across the East River, the bridge was the largest structure of its kind and a feat of modern engineering.

The artist depicted the bridge from an unusually low angle to convey its overwhelming scale: the bridge’s stone piers dominate the canvas as they rest solidly on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island). Bellows’ signature bold, swift brushstrokes recreate a steamboat’s struggle against the river’s natural force, while the gritty cityscape dissolves into a haze of mud-colored paint. In the shadowed foreground stands a group of engrossed onlookers, peering through the railing at a rapidly changing modern American city.

Painting the spectacle in The Bridge, Bellows has constructed a picture of the immediacy, energy, and spirit of urban life in the new New York of the 20th century.