|Washington Crossing the Delaware - 1851|
New York Metropolitan Museum of Art - USA
Any visitor to the American Wing, in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, will not forget seeing Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-68) Washington Crossing the Delaware. More than twelve feet tall and twenty-one wide, this iconic picture is truly larger than life.
The painting depicts Washington and his army, dramatically crossing an icy Delaware river, on the night of 25th December 1776.
"After the defeat at Long Island, George Washington led the American army in retreat across New Jersey. Chasing behind him was the significantly larger, better trained, and better equipped British army. Reaching the Delaware River, Washington rounded up every available boat and lit fires all along the Pennsylvania shore to guide the evacuation of his army across the river to the safety of the Pennsylvania shore. Ninety percent of the Continental Army that existed at Long Island was gone from casualties and desertions. What is worse is the fact that on December 26th, the enlistments of the remaining soldiers would be up and Washington would no longer have an army to lead.
In a desperate and bold move, Washington assembled his men and offered them a bonus if they would stay for one for month. Unfortunately, none of the soldiers stepped forward to take such an offer. Washington then started to ride away, but turned back to his soldiers and made a speech where he told them that never again would they have such a unique opportunity to serve their country. Stirred by Washington’s words, this time the soldiers stepped forward to stick it out for one more month. As a consequence, on the night of December 25, 1776 and on into the morning of December 26th, Washington led his men in boats backed across the Delaware River in order to mount an attack on the Hessian garrison in Trenton, New Jersey.
The password that Washington picked for that night was “Victory or death.”
Leutze uses every imaginable device to heighten the drama and elicit an emotive response in the viewer; jagged chunks of ice, whinnying horses, wounded soldiers, and a morning star speak of danger, courage, and hope.
The heroic Washington stands noble and erect at the center of the scene. His demeanor suggests fortitude and moral purpose. He brings with him an army of Americans ready to face any hardship and battle, any foe in the name of freedom and truth. Emphasized by an unnaturally bright sky, his faces catches the upcoming sun as a premonition of the upcoming future.
On the boat, people struggle to fit in, due to its small proportions. People depicted can be addressed to the American colonies, including a man in Scottish bonnet, a man with an African descent, facing backwards, and a man, at the back of the boat, that looks to be a Native American.
Strangely enough, this symbol of America was actually painted in Germany. The German American Leutze insisted on using American students at the famous Dusseldorf Academy as his models. At the time, the United States had recently expanded its boundaries to the Pacific Ocean through its victory in the Mexican War. Leutze, while painting the Delaware, imagined the spirit of Washington crossing western rivers, bringing the stars and stripes and thousands of American settlers with it. The original version of the painting has been destroyed in the bombing of Bremen, Germany, in 1942, ironically, by the British. This surviving replica was completed in 1850 and exhibited in New York in 1851. After exchanging owners several times was later donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by John Stewart Kennedy in 1897.
Credits: Daniel Robert Koch, net, Wikipedia.