Maritime Museum marks Bridge’s 90th year with inspiring purchase

The Museum

The Australian National Maritime Museum has purchased a nationally significant work of maritime art, securing Cyril Farey’s original watercolour draught for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The scale-view rendering of the iconic Bridge was purchased during a hotly contested auction in Newcastle upon Tyne, in the north of England. This watercolor features evocative references to Australia’s maritime and naval links with the world, perfectly matching the museum’s mission to collect and preserve the nation’s maritime heritage.

Signed and dated 1924, the draught was produced by architect, Cyril Arthur Farey. Considered Britain’s pre-eminent architectural illustrator, Farey completed the work for Dorman Long, a steel production company founded in 1875. Based in Middlesbrough, just south of Newcastle upon Tyne, this company expanded into bridge building in the 1920s. This draught helped sell their work on the winning design for a bridge to span Sydney Harbour – a dream that dated back to 1815. The painting accurately captures how the bridge would look when finally opened in 1932.

Dr Peter Hobbins, Head of Knowledge at the Australian National Maritime, affirmed the watercolour’s appeal to Australian and overseas visitors.

‘This is a beautiful watercolour – everyone who sees it falls in love with it. As an historian, what draws me to the painting is how it captures our maritime history and the sentiments of a nation recovering from World War I.

‘It features the pride of the Royal Australian Navy, HMAS Australia (I), alongside the vigorous movement of commercial shipping. The Bridge’s pillars also served as monuments to the fallen of the Great War, and were built from the same sandstone as the Cenotaph in Martin Place. Farey clearly understood these powerful ties, especially in the aftermath of Australia’s enormous wartime sacrifice. His masterly draught is truly visionary, stretching from the past into the future.

‘There are so many aspirations bound up in this luminous watercolour – I can’t wait to see it on our shores and in our galleries.’

The museum’s Head of Acquisitions Development, Ms Daina Fletcher said, ‘We are excited to have purchased this significant depiction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the Australian National Maritime Museum.

‘It is an important maritime work, drawn by one of Britain’s most accomplished architectural artists for bridge engineers Dorman Long at the time the firm was awarded the contract in 1924. The exquisite watercolour imagines the bridge, formally opened eight years later in 1932, as an icon of an aspirational future for our nation. Its symbolism and presence resonate today, especially as we mark the Bridge’s 90th year.’

Farey’s work is increasingly sought and exhibited. Respected architectural draughtsman Raymond Myerscough-Walker wrote ‘No architect could draw as well as this perspectivist and I doubt whether his equal will be seen in this country’[1]. Farey worked with architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Edwin Lutyens. His drawings have long been valued for their artistic merit, reflecting the delicacy and substance that characterized the Beaux Arts architecture at the time.

The painting was highly sought-after at auction, with competing bids from international buyers. After spirited bidding the hammer fell at £26,000 plus buyer’s premium. This purchase is supported by the Australian National Maritime Museum Foundation.

Julian Thomson, managing director for Anderson and Garland, Auctioneers was delighted with the outcome.

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