Object Image

Golden Gate Bridge

This panoramic depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge under construction pays tribute to the ambitious feat of engineering required to span the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Artist Ray Strong painted looking north from the San Francisco side to the hills of Marin County, where the first bright orange tower rises. Tugboats and a freighter sailing across the deep blue waters typify the busy shipping that would routinely pass beneath the span. The bridge therefore had to have the highest deck ever built. The two massive concrete structures in the foreground are anchors for the cables supporting the deck. The vast structures on the San Francisco side dwarf the men working around the anchorages and pylons. Strong's painting, with its intense colors and active brushwork, conveys an infectious optimism. Hundreds of tourists who shared the artist's excitement came to gaze at this amazing project that continued despite the financial strains of the Great Depression and the disastrous storm that washed away a trestle on Halloween of 1933. It was only fitting that President Franklin Roosevelt chose this painting celebrating the triumph of American engineering to hang in the White House.

1934: A New Deal for Artists exhibition label

Gallery Label

The Golden Gate Bridge was one of the spectacular building projects of the 1930s that powered the nation's economic recovery. Like the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Empire State Building, the bridge came about through a mix of public and private interests. Powerful ferry operators fought against the project, but voters on both sides of the bay mortgaged their properties to underwrite the bonds that financed the bridge.

The construction of the bridge cost millions of dollars and many lives. Ray Strong's painting shows the piers on which the towers would stand rising above the water; they needed to withstand the fierce winds and currents of San Francisco Bay. Stringing the cables made for a high-wire ballet enthusiastically recorded in sober business journals, popular picture magazines, and newsreels alike. This painting appeared in a show of Works Progress Administration art at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, and President Roosevelt chose it to hang in the White House.

Exhibition Label, Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2006

Credit: Transfer from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

Oil on canvas
112.0 x 182.3cm
Image and text: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2023

Where you'll find this

Smithsonian American Art Museum