Charles Sheeler visited California for the first time in 1954, to attend a retrospective exhibition of his art at the Art Galleries of the University of California at Los Angeles. He also traveled to San Francisco, where he took photographs of the city's streets and landmarks. These included the Golden Gate Bridge, the famous suspension bridge that extends more than 4,000 feet across the entrance to the San Francisco Bay. Sheeler executed this painting in early 1955, working from his photographs, at his home in Irvington, New York. His evocation of the bridge is partially abstract, due to its simplified forms, heightened color palette, and extreme viewpoint. In addition, Sheeler may have devised the composition by superimposing two photographic negatives at a slight overlap. Golden Gate conveys the sensation of passing along the bridge, beneath its towers and suspension cables; the further tower rises like a ladder, with its cross-spans suggesting "rungs" against an intensely blue sky.
This late work by Sheeler is at once a formal experiment, a tribute to a specific landmark, and a more generalized symbol of travel and opportunity. In a letter to Robert Beverly Hale, curator of American paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, Sheeler wrote, "I hope the title 'Golden Gate' will remain, it conveys my thought. More fluid than if bridge were added, then it would be limited to be the connecting link between two dots on the map. It is an opening to wherever the spectator thinks desirable."