Edward Hopper (American, 18821967)
Oil on canvas; 29 x 43 in. (73.7 x 109.2 cm)
George A. Hearn Fund, 1937 (37.44)
The title of this painting refers to the bridge that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan via the East River, a massive steel suspension bridge that opened to great fanfare in 1903. However, Hopper's focus is not the imposing structure of the bridge itself, but the more mundane view of the adjacent neighborhood on the Manhattan side of the river. This scene is most likely the approach to the bridge from Delancey Street, on the Lower East Side; Hopper would have made a preparatory sketch while standing at the location, and then painted the final version in his Greenwich Village studio.
From Williamsburg Bridge is a city scene without noise or motion. The light on the buildings is bright and steady, and the only person visible is a woman sitting in profile in a top-floor window. In the visible sections of four ordinary apartment buildings, Hopper establishes a combination of subtle rhythms and repetitions. The windows themselves are rectangles within the rectangles, punched into the facades in orderly rows. Their window shades, raised and lowered at various heights, create subtle variation within the gridlike framework. The profile of the buildings' cornices and a pair of chimneys is sharply defined against a clear sky. This overall play of horizontal and vertical forms is broken only by the angles of two fire escapes and by the unobtrusive railing of the ramp to the bridge, rising at a slight diagonal along the bottom of the canvas. The broad format of this painting implies the continuation of the scene beyond the limits of the canvas: we can imagine the street, the girders of the nearby bridge, and perhaps other, identical brownstone buildings with solitary tenants lost in reverie.