Important Australian + International Fine Art
21 April 2021


(1921 – 2013)

oil on canvas on board

25.5 x 84.5 cm

signed lower left: JEFFREY SMART

$180,000 – 240,000

Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane (label attached verso)
Private collection, Brisbane
Private collection, Melbourne
Joel Fine Art, Melbourne, 30 October 2007, lot 21
Private collection, Sydney


Jeffrey Smart, Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane, 22 October – 23 November 1996, cat. 3 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Catalogue text

Jeffrey Smart was a true painter of modern life, exploring in each of his artworks, from the 1940s until the early 2000s, the surreal contrast between a geometrically constructed material world and the living things that these structures had encroached upon. Second Study for Railway Bridge, 1996 is borne of Smart’s aesthetic rigour, love of design and classicist penchant. In this work he has conjured up an uneasy and surreal atmosphere where purple sky looms above an empty road leading over a hill, dipping past a horizon that is obscured from view. Like a freeze frame of a film, the closely cropped images of Smart’s world are loaded with a sense of intrigue, the suggestion of action existing and persisting just beyond the audience’s line of sight.

For many of Smart’s works, it seems that the scenes depicted are recorded faithfully en plein air. They are instead composite images, constructed from disparate elements recalled from real life locations or gleaned from other artworks, both his own and those painted by artists whom Smart admired. It is this complex weaving of motifs, of symbols from his unique visual vocabulary, which required a disciplined consecutive sequence: starting with pencil studies, then (often several) oil studies and then a final large-scale painting. The dialogue between these artworks is multifaceted and replete, stretching across a lifetime of observations and painted constructions.

‘Many of my paintings have in their origin a passing glance. Something catches my eye, and I cautiously rejoice because it might be the beginning of a painting. Sometimes it’s impossible to stop and sketch because I saw it from a train or a fast-moving car on the autostrada. And it can happen that when I go back to that place, I wonder what on earth it could have been that enchanted me – it isn’t there. Enchantment is the word for it’.1

Second Study for Railway Bridge is particularly rich in recurrent Smart motifs. The articulated container train spanning the entire composition and travelling slowly under the eponymous railway bridge is almost exactly replicated (along with striped signal pole with a bright red inverted triangular pane) from the artist’s masterwork, a 9-meter long mural for the Arts Centre, Melbourne, Container Train in Landscape, 1983-4. With a similarly long and narrow format, Second Study for Railway Bridge echoes this motif, which the artist had originally glimpsed during a trip to Yugoslavia in 1980.2 With an uninhibited application of paint, Smart indulges here in different textures – from the delicately multiplied blades of grass on the knoll, to the worn realism of peeling posters on the side of the bricked bridge and tyre marks on the sweeping bitumen road. The structure of the railway bridge itself has been sublimated from another earlier work, The Meeting, Railway Bridge, 1982 (the real bridge, situated some 3 – 4 kilometres from Smart’s studio in Tuscany)3, here now devoid of people, and surging above the train with clean, hard edges and gleaming bright and bold supports.

With a quality of completeness, this second study is no mere aide-memoire. It is a resolved painting in its own right, while also having offered the artist complete creative freedom with respect to composition and painterly facture. With multiple elements combined from Smart’s greatest compositions, Second Study for Railway Bridge, is a scene entirely constructed from Smart’s world, where familiar elements are repurposed and imbued with a gravitas that transforms them into monuments of modernity.

1. The artist cited in Capon, E., et al., Jeffrey Smart: Drawings and Studies 1942 – 2001, Australian Art Publishing, Melbourne, 2001, inside cover.
2. Pearce, B., Jeffrey Smart, The Beagle Press, Sydney, 2005, p. 194
3. Capon, E., op.cit, p. 117