Philip Wilson Steer

The Bridge


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Philip Wilson Steer 1860–1942
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 495 × 655 × 20 mm
frame: 639 × 803 × 89 mm
Purchased 1941

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This picture was strongly attacked by the critics when it was first exhibited in 1887, and dismissed by one as 'either a deliberate daub or so much mere midsummer madness'. Steer considered giving up painting in the wake of this disapproval. With its exploitation of the creamy fluency of oil paint, its atmospheric lighting and subdued colouring, 'The Bridge' is like Whistler's landscapes he called 'Nocturnes'. It was unusual in London at the time for its lack of detail, and for the uncertainly about its subject. The view is probably at Walberswick in Suffolk.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N05256 THE BRIDGE 1887–8

Inscr. ‘P W Steer’ b.l.
Canvas, 19 1/2×25 3/4 (49·5×65·5).
Purchased from the Leicester Galleries (Knapping Fund) 1941.
Coll: Ellen M. Cobden (Mrs Walter Sickert); Mrs T. J. Cobden-Sanderson; R. Cobden-Sanderson, sold Christie's, 2 August 1940 (75), bt. Lessore; Leicester Galleries.
Exh: Summer Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, April–July 1888 (105), as ‘The Bridge’; Les XX, Brussels, 1889 (Steer 2), as ‘Le Pont’; New Year Exhibition, Leicester Galleries, January 1941 (47), as ‘The Bridge, Étaples’; National Gallery, June–August 1943 (72); Tate Gallery, November–December 1960 (5).
Lit: MacColl, 1945, pp.26, 189; John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters: Sickert to Smith, 1952, p.64.
Repr: Studio, CXXII, 1941, p.65; Ironside, 1943, pl.9.

Known also as ‘The Bridge, Étaples’, the evidence for the identification of the location has been questioned by Bruce Laughton, who points out that early photographs of Walberswick estuary show a wooden footbridge over Dunwick Creek. A small panel (coll. Louis van Praagh), inscribed on the back ‘Étaples 1880s’, appears to be a first thought for this composition, but although both paintings show the back view of a girl leaning on a railing, the view from the bridge is not the same.

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, II

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