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Ray Strong Paints the Golden Gate Bridge
March 26, 2009


Ray Strong, Golden Gate Bridge, 1934, oil, 44 1/8 x 71 3/4 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1965.18.50

Strong painting

Unidentified Photographer, [Ray Strong painting the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California], 1934, Ray Strong papers, 1934–1996, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Looking at the painting and the photo together reminds me of the experience of watching a landscape artist work en plein air and glancing back and forth between the canvas and the subject. In between lies the vast world of interpretation.

In the photo, Ray Strong (1905–2006) paints the Golden Gate Bridge under construction in what is likely a preliminary sketch, as the painting in the American Art collection is much larger than the canvas on his easel. In our artwork, Strong displays optimistic colors and vivid brushstrokes. The water is composed of delicious blues and greens, while the sky is a fainter, less-drenched pigment. The first tower rises in the distance in its distinctive orange hue. The photograph shows the painter standing on the San Francisco side looking across toward Marin County. Both views tell a similar tale, but the painting seems to me the more vivid storyteller, while the photograph captures the important fact of the moment. My eye goes back and forth between the painting and the photo and gives me the sense that I'm there, looking over Strong's shoulder, watching quietly as he works.

For more information on Ray Strong and his take on the West Coast art scene in the 1930s, here's a transcript from his 1993 interview with the Archives of American Art.

See Golden Gate Bridge in person at our exhibition 1934: A New Deal for Artists, and visit our 1934 Flickr set to view all artworks in the show.

Posted by Howard on March 26, 2009 in American Art Here


If I'm not mistaken, the same company responsible for this bridge built the one over the Tagus River (Tejo in Portuguese) here in Lisbon and another similar one in Scotland. They're both quite alike.

Although I'm far from being a specialist on the subject, it seems evident to me that the artist uses a style which was quite used at the time of this work.

This was one of my favorite paintings from the show. Thanks for posting more information about it. Though it makes me a little homesick--I'm from San Francisco originally.

Another note: if you go, don't forget to look at the frames! I don't know if all of them are period or not, but they were great choices if they're not.

It would also fit in with the next Collector's Roundtable program on April 28th on, well, frames! The lecture on collecting photography this past week was just wonderful. This series is definitely the Smithsonian's best kept secret.


As always, your posts are always enjoyable to read and look at! His painting does make me feel like I'm there by the bridge. There's this new site that may be of interest to you. It's called and it's a site where artists have a virtual studio to display and sell their work.

Thanks again for your wonderful post!

Was this photograph also displayed in the exhibit? I am always interested in the artist's individual process.

Isn't the artist's 'vast world of interpretation' a phenomenal thing?

What an amazing painting. I grew up in the Northern California region and am very familiar with the Golden Gate Bridge. The photo of the painting being done is very cool too.

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