It’s New York’s oldest bridge—a Roman-inspired graceful span completed in 1848 as a crucial link of the Croton Aqueduct, the engineering marvel that brought fresh upstate water to city spigots.
At 140 feet above the breezy Harlem River, it was (and is—it’s now open to the public) a favorite place for strollers as well as artists.
Ernest Lawson was one of those artists. “High Bridge—Early Moon” (above) from 910 “dates from Lawson’s early period . . . when he lived for a time in Washington Heights, at the northern tip of Manhattan,” states the website for the Phillips Collection, which owns the painting.
“Having left the area in 1906 when he moved to Greenwich Village, the artist often returned to paint his favorite sites until about 1916.”
“High Bridge—Early Moon” looks toward the Bronx side of the bridge. In the more somber “High Bridge, Harlem River,” Lawson looks toward Upper Manhattan, the site of the circa-1872 High Bridge Water Tower.
“The motif of the bridge . . . takes on added significance in American art as a symbol of movement and change. As cities grew, bridges were often among the first structures built, their spare designs helping to transform the face of the American landscape from rural to urban.” continues the Phillips Collection caption.
“Lawson’s carefully observed paintings documenting this change conveyed his delight in commonplace views and objects—an old boat, a frail tree, grasses growing along the river’s edge.”
Read more about the High Bridge and how the bridge and the riverfront below it became a favorite recreation area in the late 19th century in The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910.