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Australian art

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Building the Harbour Bridge I, beginnings



Jessie Traill


29 Jul 1881 - 15 May 1967


Jessie Traill’s Building the Harbour Bridge series is her most significant achievement as an artist, and a remarkable record of what was then the largest and most ambitious engineering project in Australian history.

Traill travelled from Melbourne to Sydney regularly between 1927 and 1932 to document the progress of the workers in
drawings and watercolours, leading to this six-etching series and two aquatints of the bridge. She was given special access to the
top deck to observe the workers, and felt herself an intrinsic part of the great national project. She wrote in 1929:

What we see is a solid mass of concrete and intricate lacework of iron made more intricate by the play of light and shade;
something that giants might play with as a child would with his Meccano set… In years to come when we dash over the Bridge
in our taxi or take a “walk” across (which will be about a mile) to see our Harbour, we, who have watched it progress and sketched
or photographed its parts, will feel with these workmen a sort of pride of possession, and it will be OUR BRIDGE too.


Other Title

Building the Harbour Bridge No. I

Place where the work was made

Sydney New South Wales Australia



Media category


Materials used

etching, foul bite, printed in brown ink with plate tone on cream wove paper




24.5 x 36.4 cm platemark; 32.9 x 45.5 cm sheet (irreg.)

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r. beneath platemark, pencil "JCA Traill 1927.".


Purchased 1975


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Jessie Traill

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Peter Emmett, Metropolis, Glebe, 1999. Exhibition guide, brochure format.

Jane Hylton, Modern Australian women: paintings & prints 1925-1945, Adelaide, 2000, 24 (colour illus.), 127. titled 'Building the Harbour Bridge No. I'; Collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia

Caroline Mackaness, Bridging Sydney, Sydney, 2006, 165 (colour illus.).

Denise Mimmocchi, Sydney moderns: art for a new world, 'Icon of modernity: the Sydney Harbour Bridge', pg. 154-163, Sydney, 2013, 160 (colour illus.), 316, 324.

Macushla Robinson, Stars in the river: the prints of Jessie Traill, 'Building the Harbour Bridge series', pg. 52-61, Canberra, 2013, 9, 56 (illus.), 57, 107, 112 (illus.), 146, 171 (illus.). NOTE: The text on page 107 speaks generally about Traill's Sydney Harbour Bridge works. 'Building the Harbour Bridge' series is specifically discussed on pages 56-60.

Anne Ryan, Australian etchings and engravings 1880s–1930s from the Gallery's collection, Sydney, 2007, 47, 47 (colour illus.). 65

John Slater, Through artists' eyes: Australian suburbs and their cities 1919-1945, 'Continuity and change', pg. 35-70, Melbourne, 2004, 59, 60 (illus.), 63. 42

Susannah Smith, Look, 'Women's work: their diverse and significant contribution to the modernist art scene', pg. 13-15, Sydney, Aug 2013, 14.

Kay Vernon, Harbour hymns, city songs: visions of Sydney from the collection, Sydney, 1990. 37