Washington Crossing the Delaware is an 1851 oil-on-canvas painting by the German American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. It commemorates General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on the night of December 25–26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. That action was the first move in a surprise attack against the Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey, in the Battle of Trenton on the morning of December 26.
German-born Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816–1868) grew up in America, then returned to Germany as an adult, where he conceived of the idea for this painting during the Revolutions of 1848. Hoping to encourage Europe’s liberal reformers through the example of the American Revolution, and using American tourists and art students as models and assistants, among them Worthington Whittredge and Andreas Achenbach, Leutze finished the first painting in 1850. Just after it was completed, the first version was damaged by fire in his studio, subsequently restored, and acquired by the Kunsthalle Bremen. On September 5, 1942, during World War II, it was destroyed in a bombing raid by the Allied forces.
The second painting, a full-sized replica of the first, was begun in 1850 and placed on exhibition in New York in October 1851. More than 50,000 people viewed it. The painting was originally bought by Marshall O. Roberts for $10,000 (at the time, an enormous sum). After changing ownership several times, it was finally donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by John Stewart Kennedy in 1897.
In January 2002, the painting was defaced when a former Metropolitan Museum of Art guard glued a picture of the September 11 attacks to it. No major damage was caused to the painting.
The simple frame that had been with the painting for over 90 years turned out not to be the original frame that Leutze designed. A photograph taken by Matthew Brady in 1864 was found in the New York Historical Society in 2007 showing the painting in a spectacular eagle crested frame. The 12’ x 21’ carved replica frame was created using this photo by Eli Wilner & Company in New York City. The carved eagle-topped crest alone is 14′ wide.
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