Margaret Preston

Wooden Bridge, 1925

Mosman Art Trail Sign 1 located on footpath cnr Harnett Ave and Centenary Dr.

Listen to an audio recording, read by Claudia Karvan, to learn more about this artwork. 

Magaret Rose McPherson moved to ‘Glenorie’ in Musgrave St, Mosman in 1920 as a newly married woman aged in her forties.1 Stimulated by its sweeping views across the bay, and with reliable financial support for the first time in her life, here began a new phase of McPherson’s artistic career, now under the surname of Preston. Establishing a radical modernist aesthetic and focussing on local subject matter, her landscapes in the 1920s display views which were familiar to her, illustrating the decorative possibilities of her everyday environment. Although the interwar period in Sydney was a time of great urban development, the quiet suburban cove of Mosman Bay remained relatively unchanged throughout her lifetime, and provided a constant source of artistic experimentation for the artist. Her woodcuts of Mosman Bay are amongst her most well-known works and have become emblematic of Modernism in Australia.

Preston’s quaint woodcut Wooden Bridge, 1925 depicts the raised wooden pile bridge that formerly crossed the silty Mosman Bay, looking back from the ferry wharf towards the jumble of trees that was already Reid Park. This small square composition was adapted from the design of a larger print the artist had made in 1920, Mosman Bay Bridge. The increased surface area of this earlier print included a foreground of large boats moored at the marina on either side of the bay, and greater linear detail in the bridge and in the tangle of vertical ship masts behind it. In the more tightly cropped Wooden Bridge, these forms remain but the incised details are lost in favour of bolder black contours and larger flat areas of pure colour. The entire scene is simplified into a flat mosaic, balancing the built up flanks of the bay with a large triangular area of open sky, roughly streaked with graduated bands of blue at the top of the print.

Preston had democratic ideas about art and craft and created artworks with hand-made authenticity, intended to be cheerful and affordable home decorations for the middle class. An ambitious artist, she seized opportunities to reproduce and promote her works through illustrations within popular print media such as The Home and Art in Australia, helping her prints to achieve broad and enduring appeal. At the time of their first exhibition, a critic noted that her “two or three landscapes of Mosman [...] would stagger the mayor and aldermen of that suburb”.2 Indeed, while the landmarks of this genteel residential suburb, in particular the old gridded footbridge over Mosman Bay and the bright red roofs of modern harbourfront apartment blocks are recognisable, Preston has manipulated them into a unique and striking arrangement.

The area of Goram Bullagong, in the land of the Cammeraygal and Borogegal people today bears the name of whaling magnate Alexander Mossman. Even though the polluting whaling ships left the area in the 1830s, Mosman Bay was a busy and indispensable maritime transport hub, linking the peninsula to the bustling city. Preston’s peaceful view of Wooden Bridge presents a quiet, mostly decorative, reality.

1 Butler, R., The Prints of Margaret Preston. A Catalogue Raisonné, Australian National Gallery and Oxford University Press, Melbourne, first edition, 1987, p. 12
2 ‘Unusual Art’, The Sun, Sydney, 7 August 1929, p. 17

Text by Lucie Reeves-Smith.

Private collection
Leonard Joel, Melbourne, 27 February 2011, lot 100 (unsold)
Balnaves Collection, Sydney, acquired from the above
Mosman Art Gallery, Sydney, a gift from the above

Ure Smith, S. and Geller, L., (eds), Art in Australia, Ure Smith, Sydney, Third Series, No. 22, December 1927, pl. 36 (illus. another impression)
North, I., The Art of Margaret Preston, Art Gallery Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1980, cat. P14, p. 54 (as ‘Mosman Bridge, c.1925’, illus., another impression)
Butel, E., Margaret Preston: The Art of Constant Rearrangement, Penguin Books, Melbourne, in association with the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1986, cat. 15, p. 87 (illus., another impression)
Butler, R., The Prints of Margaret Preston: A Catalogue Raisonné, Australian National Gallery, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, first edition 1987, cat. 61, p. 93 (illus., another impression).
Butler, R., The Prints of Margaret Preston: A Catalogue Raisonné, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, revised edition 2005, cat. 61, p. 105 (illus., another impression)

Margaret Preston: The Art of Constant Rearrangement, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 December 1985 - 9 February 1986 (another impression)
Destination Sydney, S.H. Ervin Gallery, Sydney, 11 December 2015 - 21 February 2016 (another impression)

Photo credit Jacquie Manning

Additional Specifications

(1875 - 1963)

hand coloured woodcut
12.5 x 12.5 cm
edition: 16/50
signed, dated, numbered and inscribed with title below image:
16th proof. Wooden Bridge, Mosman / - 25 NSW / Margaret Preston