Just like the Harbour Bridge, this is an iconic painting about the construction, prior to its accidental partial collapse in 1970 of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge, used by millions of motorists every week, and currently being expanded.

Born in Berlin, Ernest Marcuse (1900–‘85) studied at the Berlin School of Interior Design & Cabinetmaking and at the Reimann School (1) before working as a freelance commercial artist, specialising in architectural, industrial and figurative drawing. When Ernest Marcuse fled Germany to Australia during World War II he never thought he’d be recruited by the Australian Army as an artist. Unlike the many thousands of migrants who passed through the gates of the Bonegilla Migrant Centre outside Wodonga seeking a new life, Marcuse found himself there as an employee. And it was during this time he captured many of the landscapes his work is known for. Marcuse, who died in 1985, has works in the National Gallery of Victoria and the Australian War Museum and soon, 25 pieces will hang in the Burke Museum in Beechworth.

His son Peter Marcuse said his father had shown artistic ability from a very early age, and he still has pieces his father painted when he was in his teens. Peter said two months after Hitler came to power in 1933 his father received a letter which said because he was Jewish he could no longer be employed. “It was as simple as that,” he said.

Ernest spent the next five years illustrating children’s books anonymously to earn a living. In 1938 he moved to London where he met his wife remained for seven months, before moving to Australia as a refugee. “When he arrived in Australia one of the first things he did was to contact newspapers for work. Marcuse was employed by The Argus but little more than a year later he got a letter stating due to his German background, he could no longer be employed in a classification such as the newspaper. He was able to continue to work as a commercial artist, but the Australian Army wanted to use his talents. “He was considered a stateless person, but because the government wanted to use his talent they reversed his status and he was appointed a position at the officers’ training school at Bonegilla, Peter said. He was employed there for about 12 months, 1941-42, as a staff artist. Ernest drew individual rifles, equipment of the Japanese and combat methods all of which are now on display at the National War Museum in Canberra. While Ernest was employed to illustrate for the military, in his spare time he would camp in north east Victoria. Among the scenery he captured were the Kiewa River and the Lake Hume Reservoir. In 2019 several of Marcuse’s landscapes of Bright and Wandiligong painted in the 1950s formed part of an exhibition at the Wangaratta Art Gallery. Some pieces are now on permanent display. From that, Peter stated, the Indigo Shire Council and the Burke Museum concluded: ‘we need more of this work that relates to our area and State’.

Marcuse painted many iconic landmark locations around Melbourne, including the construction of key projects such as the West Gate Bridge and the National Gallery of Victoria. Marcuse’s technical training is evident in his artistic iterations of such architectural projects, with perspective, volume and form carefully represented. Probably painted around 1966-7, this substantial artwork of the iconic Westgate Bridge displays the imposing construction project in remarkable detail.

The West Gate Bridge is a steel, box girder, cable-stayed bridge in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, spanning the Yarra River just north of its mouth into Port Phillip and is 2.6 kms long. It carries the West Gate Freeway and is a vital link between the inner city (CBD) and Melbourne’s western suburbs, with many industrial estates in the West, and with the city of Geelong 80 kilometres to the southwest. Strong growth in Western suburbs along the route, and increased freight through the Port of Melbourne, has created one of the busiest road corridors in Australia carrying at least 200,000 vehicles on a daily basis. Like the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, the West Gate Bridge has become an iconic landmark in Melbourne, and Australia.

The bridge is currently facing a major upgrade, including a tunnel project estimated costing some $ 300 million, to allow for ever increasing (traffic) expansion from the Western suburbs and Geelong into Melbourne and beyond. The NGV collection, has several artworks by Ernest Marcuse depicting the construction of the Gallery during 1966-67. The building was completed in 1967 and officially opened in August 1968 by premier Henry Bolte. This is an important painting about an iconic engineering landmark “the Westgate Bridge” in Melbourne, Victoria, painted during its construction period by renowned artist Ernest Marcuse.

(1) The Reimann School, was a prestigious private school of German origin for practical design and later became the first commercial art school in Britain. Albert and Klara Reimann founded the Reimann School in Berlin in 1902. By 1914 they had developed a successful vocational curriculum that trained students not so much for the prevailing Arts and Crafts Movement, but for the design aspects of the commercial world. Graphics for printing, window display, stage design, fabric design, and fashion related classes were offered. Driven from Germany by virulent Nazism the School was re-established at 4-10 Regency Street, London in January 1937. The School and studios closed in 1940 – following the outbreak of World War II, and in 1943, the School’s premises were destroyed by bombing, a fate which also befell the Reimann Schule in Berlin. A terribly sad ending for a private educational institution, that was held in high esteem, as a result of the wasteful destruction of war.

(under construction) 1966-67
Mixed media on masonite board

H 122 cm x W 81cm
Prov: Art collection National
Australia Bank
Art collection Robert (Bob) Metselaar

Robert (Bob) Metselaar from Vanopa Antiques & Fine Art
A Guest Exhibitor at the recent AAADA Antiques & Art Fair Melbourne.

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