Washington Crossing the Delaware

WC Art Encyclopedia Leutze

Washington Crossing the Delaware is an oil-on-canvas painting. It has been created by the German artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze in 1851.

The painting is in subject matter and execution a typical painting of Romanticism. Leutze hoped to encourage Europe’s liberal reformers through the example of the American Revolution. Hence, in his painting he commemorated a decisive moment of the American Revolutionary War: General Washington crossing the Delaware River on the night of Dec 25-26, 1776. It was the first move in a surprise attack that led to what is called the Battle of Trenton.

While the river and sky are icy, dark and forbidden, General Washington’s upright figure is emphasized by a patch of bright sky behind it and his face catches the first rays of the morning sun. The way flag and boat are angled to each other they make up an arrow head, which gives the whole armada of boats following in the background a direction, force and speed toward liberation and creation of a nation.

German born, American raised Leutze painted the first version of this painting after the Revolution of 1848 in Germany, to where he had returned as an adult. Just after the painting was completed in 1850, it was damaged in a studio fire. Later it was restored and the Kunsthalle Bremen bought it for its collection. There it was destroyed in a bombing raid by the British Air Force during WWII in 1942.

Yet, Leutze created a full-size replica starting in 1850. This replica was exhibited in New York in 1851. There it can be seen today.

Two random facts:

The picture has been subject to censorship in American school books as recently as 2003, because the way the watch fob is painted close to the groin it can be seen as resembling a male genitalia.

Movie posters of Winnie the Pooh (2011) on which Winnie and his friends float in a honey pot in honey are modeled after this painting.

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