His green hunting coat, deerskin leggings, and bullet bag of Native American beadwork identify this man as a frontier rifleman. In the background, soldiers try to calm a terrified horse. Artists often use the expression of the horse to show strong emotion. The soldiers have conquered their fear through training, leadership, and grit. Their courage stands in contrast to the fear of the horse, which has no such control.
In the boat (much smaller than the forty-to-sixty foot long Durham boats actually used for the crossing) are twelve soldiers who represent the different faces of America. In the bow, a weather-beaten, western rifleman tries to keep the small boat from capsizing on the ice floes. By his side is a man wearing a Balmoral bonnet that identifies him as a Scottish immigrant. Behind him, wearing an earring, is a man of African descent. The artist, painting a decade before the American Civil War, was a well-known abolitionist.
Leutze has painted a bright star shining through the darkness and the clouds in the sky over Trenton. Evoking the Star of Bethlehem, it signifies the favor of divine providence, which Washington often evoked. His order of the day for July 4, 1776, might as well have been issued for the crucial attack on Trenton: “The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this army….Let us rely upon the goodness of the cause and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions.”
Washington stands heroically wearing the buff and blue of the Continental Army. The blue uniform the U.S. Army wears today started with Washington’s selection of that color. The Continental Congress wanted a cheaper color like gray, but Washington, who loved wearing the uniform, told his political masters that the army would wear blue. His brass telescope and prominently displayed saber symbolize Washington’s vision and combativeness. Some historians have argued that the painting is historically inaccurate : the general could not have stood in the face of a strong wind in a small boat. Other historians claim that everyone would have stood to avoid the frigid water in the bottom of the boat. Either way, the artist succeeds in showing Washington as heroic and resolute, leading an army of diverse Americans. The historian David Hackett Fischer quotes Washington: “A people unused to restraint must be led; they will not be drove.”
Lieutenant James Monroe, the future fifth president of United States, holds the Stars and Stripes. Monroe’s face shows resolve as well as the strain of holding the flag against the wind. The flag Monroe holds is not accurate. It was only approved a year after the battle.
A staple of every high school history book for over a century, ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ is an iconic American painting. The artist of this nearly 4 meter x 6.5 meter painting (12’ x 20’) was a German American immigrant who had a strong commitment to democracy. Emanuel Leutze returned to Germany from his adopted land to support the revolutions of 1848. This painting was meant to encourage Europeans with an example from America.
Leutze, using American tourists and art students as models, finished the painting in 1850. It became part of the Bremen Art Museum until a bombing raid by the British Royal Air Force destroyed the painting on September 5, 1942. Luckily, Leutze painted a second copy and sent it to America in 1851. 50,000 people came to see the painting when it debuted in New York. During the Civil War, Unionists charged the public money to see the monumental work and used the proceeds for the Abolitionist movement.
Today the painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
WASHINGTON CROSSING THE DELAWARE (1851)
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816–1868)
A staple of high school history books for over a century, Washington Crossing the Delaware is an iconic American painting. The artist of this huge (12’ x 20’) painting was a German American immigrant deeply committed to democratic principles. Emanuel Leutze returned to Germany from his adopted land to support the revolutions of 1848. This painting was meant to inspire Europeans with an example from America. The original, completed in 1850, hung in the Bremen Art Museum until a British bombing raid destroyed it in 1942. Luckily, Leutze had painted a second copy and sent it to America in 1851. Approximately 50,000 people came to see the painting when it debuted in New York. During the Civil War, Unionists charged the public money to see the monumental work and used the proceeds for the abolitionist movement. Today the painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.