Jessie Traill’s balance of sensitivity and observation positions her as arguably the finest etcher in Australia during the first half of the twentieth century. A student of the Scottish artist John Mather, who had settled in Melbourne in 1878, Traill later travelled to England where she worked with the painter-etcher Frank Brangwyn, from whom she learnt to work boldly and on a large scale.
In the 1920s and 1930s, at a time when women printmakers were expected to practise such ‘friendly little crafts’ as the woodcut and linocut, Traill created large and technically demanding etchings. These were often of industrial scenes, as in The red light, Harbour Bridge, June 1931, which shows the construction of the iconic Sydney landmark just prior to its official opening.
The shadowy form of the bridge dominates this cropped composition, dwarfing the geometry of the cranes in the foreground. A lone ruby-coloured beacon glows from within its giant ribcage of iron girders. Traill used aquatint to give a tonal richness to the twilight view. In the background buildings around The Rocks are silhouetted against the flushed sky, with the small rectangles of their windows echoing the vertical format of the print.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008