There must be in excess of a thousand images painted of the Forth rail bridge. And why not, for there are few more inspiring and powerful examples of Victorian engineering achievement. A great dominating structure, leaping across the estuary in massive strides of girder and steel. It touches the dullest of hearts and has naturally attracted the artists of Scotland, and of the world, to try and capture its steely beauty, set in the bleak landscape of the great estuary.
Some of the best images were in fact commissioned by the Railway Companys, who once owned a major share of the bridge and were anxious to promote rail travel to the North East of Scotland. Two in particular stand out. But they also produced dramatic images of steam trains thundering across the girders.
It is somewhat unfortunate that J.M.W. M. Turner died before the bridge was built and we are therefore left to wonder what that outstanding artist would have made of the industrial landscape created by its arching cantilevers. He did famously paint the Tay Bridge and the canvas only enhances the disappointment that he died before the Forth Bridge was completed. Lavery, that stalwart of the Glasgow Boys School of artists painted an image for the Ministry of Defence who commissioned him to capture a number of war images during WW1.
Contemporary images, that sell postcards by the several thousand a year, are still splendid works of art. This image by Peter McDermot is possibly one of the most popular.
Then there is Charles Edward Turner who painted this magical scene with the bridge disappearing into the haze and mists of the Firth of Forth.
And I particularly like this cubist version of the bridge by Irene Gill
In 2007 the National Gallery of Scotland purchased, for €57,000 the art-montage of photographs by Dieter Applet, which looks as if it was chosen by some trendy arts graduate fresh out of a modern art college and is really disappointing as one of the chief images of the great bridge to be held by the National Gallery.
Scottish currency on the other hand used straightforward contemporary images for its precious cash.
Fairly recently the Scottish artist Rob Hain completed this five foot square, full of colour image of the iconic structure. He calls it “Crossing the Bridge” It is by far my favourite contemporary painting of the bridge, with its great, full of character, red steel girders filling the canvas and carrying a smoky southbound steam train across its heavy girders and stepping, confidently onto the shores of Queensferry, with the Lowry like figures giving it a scale and a power that captures its dominance of the town and the estuary. This dulcet bridge.
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