“Washington Crossing the Delaware” will be auctioned
“Washington Crossing the Delaware”, a painting that depicts one of the most recognizable scenes of the American Revolution, is up for sale.
Not the 21-foot canvas that takes up an entire wall at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the other – the roughly 3½-foot by 5½-foot version painted around the same time by Emanuel Leutze, a German-American artist, in 1851.
It’s the first time since 1979 that the smaller version of the painting, which hung in the White House for four decades, will be auctioned and is expected to sell for $15-20 million when it goes up for auction. auction. next month, according to Christie’s, the auction house.
“One of the reasons ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ has become arguably the most iconic likeness of George Washington is that it shows General Washington as a man of action,” said department scholar Paige Kestenman. of American Art from Christie’s.
Before that, painters had depicted Washington as regal, seen from the side or gazing down the battlefield, she said.
“In this case, Emanuel Leutze deliberately placed Washington in the middle of the crossing, on the boat, among his men,” Ms Kestenman said.
A journey from Germany to Minnesota.
It was a powerful portrayal of a pivotal Revolutionary War battle, one that was to inspire 19th-century European revolutionaries and renew American patriotism in the United States, she said.
Leutze and his assistants painted three versions of the scene in Germany. The first was painted in 1849, 73 years after the Battle of Trenton, when Washington led about 3,000 soldiers through the freezing waters of Delaware on Christmas Day and surprised a camp of Hessian mercenaries. The attack was successful and boosted the morale of the Continental Army, which had suffered casualties in the Battle of White Plains and Forts Washington and Lee.
The other two canvases were sent to the United States after Leutze completed them in 1851. The larger canvas went to the Stuyvesant Institute in New York, where it was exhibited in October 1851 under bright lights, Ms Kestenman said. .
“It became a real event,” she said. “It was like going to the theater to see this painting.” Over the next four months, about 50,000 people paid 25 cents a ticket to see it.
The smaller painting was still privately owned and was created so that it could be more easily reproduced by an engraver, who could then mass-produce prints of the piece. In 1973 it sold for $260,000, which at the time was the highest price ever paid for an American painting.
Six years later, it sold for $370,000, Ms. Kestenman said. It was loaned to the White House, where it has been displayed under various administrations, according to Christie’s.
In 2015, the painting briefly hung at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona.
Ms Kestenman said the painting is being sold by a private seller, who does not wish to be identified or discuss the auction of the canvas.
“I think it’s going to sell very well,” said John Tilford, curator of collections at Oglethorpe University Museum of Art in Atlanta. “It really comes down to how many very wealthy people want this painting.”
It only takes two competing bidders for the price to go up, Mr Tilford said.
The painting’s value lies not only in its recognizability – it’s so familiar it’s been parodied by shows like ‘Veep’, ‘The Muppets’ and ‘Queer Eye’ – but also in Leutze’s role in creating it. , said Mr. Tilford.
For decades people believed that Eastman Johnson, an American artist who later became one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, painted the scaled-down version while working as Leutze’s assistant.
In recent years, art experts have concluded that Leutze painted it himself, with help from Eastman, Mr Tilford said.
“Eastman is a major artist in his own right, but you don’t want to spend $15-20 million on an image that was copied by an assistant,” he said.
The painting is also significant because it shows how Leutze, who was an abolitionist, chose to emphasize different cultures.
In the boat with Washington are men in Native American or Scottish costume. Also on board is a black man believed to be either Prince Whipple, a slave who enlisted in the Continental Army with the promise of his freedom, or William Billy Lee, Washington’s slave valet and military aide.
“It has always been recognized for its element of diversity and for showing America as a country of immigrants,” Mr. Tilford said. “I think that’s something we would do well to remember today.”