Jessie TRAILL, The red light, Harbour Bridge, June 1931. Enlarge 1 /1


Brighton, Victoria, Australia 1881 – Emerald, Victoria, Australia 1967

  • England, Europe frequently after 1906

The red light, Harbour Bridge, June 1931. 1932 Place made: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Materials & Technique: prints, ink; paper aquatint and etching, printed in brown ink with plate-tone, from one plate; additional hand-colouring in gouache Support: cream wove paper
Manufacturer's Mark: no manufacturer's mark.
Edition State: published state
Impression: 10/30
Edition: edition of 30

Primary Insc: signed and dated lower right below plate-mark in black pencil, 'J.C.A. Traill 1932'. titled lower left below plate-mark in black pencil, 'The Red Light. Harbour Bridge June 1931. inscribed lower left in below plate-mark in black pencil, '10/30'.
Secondary Insc: no inscriptions.
Tertiary Insc: inscribed lower right corner in black pencil, '£10-10'.
Dimensions: plate-mark 32.8 h x 24.6 w cm sheet 45.2 h x 32.6 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1987
Accession No: NGA 87.1153
Subject: Australia, Art style: Painter-etchers 1860s-1938
  • Purchased by the Australian National Gallery, from Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney, July 1987;
  • From the exhibition, 'Masterpieces of Australian Printmaking, Sydney: Josef Lebovic Gallery, April - May 1987, cat., no.186..

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