Past in the Present has this wonderful, terse post up:
It’s the most wonderful time of the year
Unless you’re a Hessian.
- Hessian? Do my students know what he’s talking about?
- What is the other famous painting of this event?
- Considering how famous that other painting is, isn’t it almost tragic this one isn’t more famous?
- Considering #3, how many other great paintings of U.S. history sit in museums, or in government buildings, waiting to be discovered? Maybe bloggers could help, by finding those paintings, photographing them, and posting the photographs.
- David Hanauer’s blog features the famous painting, and more paintings (including another version of this painting, by Sully) — and photographs of the area, historic buildings and artifacts, and information about the crossing re-enactments today. Give it a look.
- Purchase a poster of the Sully painting from art.com
- Listing of the painting and explanation, at the site for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts — including the history; the painting was commissioned by North Carolina, intended to hang in its state capitol building. Sully began the painting before getting confirmation of the commission from North Carolina’s governor, however. When the painting was done, it was discovered to be too large for the place it was intended to hang. The painting is 17 feet by 12 feet. It had been in storage since the Boston MFA acquired it in 1903, until hung in the gallery in 2010.
- Fascinating series of photos of the massive painting being hung in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, from the Boston Globe’s site, boston.com (I don’t know whether the photos ever ran in the paper)
- History of the painting from The Art Bulletin in 1973 — an article by Philipp P. Fehl (unfortunately, part of the article is behind a paywall)
- Wall Street Journal article about the painting, and its emergence from a century of hiding – “In Sully’s masterwork, Washington and his army are now on the move. Astride a horse, right hand on his hip, Washington looks confident and proud that his army of 2,400 men with 18 artillery pieces has almost completed the crossing of the treacherous ice-choked Delaware River from Philadelphia, and will soon be fully assembled on the New Jersey shore. A throng of anxious men surrounds him. Gen. Henry Knox is pointing his sword. Gen. Nathanial Greene is mounting his horse. Washington’s servant, William Lee, and a figure who may be Gen. John Sullivan look on uneasily. But the 44-year-old Washington is tranquil and resolute, his face serene. He seems transfigured, as if communing with the gods of fortune. Sully has turned a crucial juncture in time and history into a timeless work of art. “
On that note there was an article in the Star Tribune today regarding another version of Washington crossing the Deleware:
New York museum to unveil more accurate picture of Washington crossing the Delaware in 1776
NEW YORK – One of America’s most famous images, a painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware River, got much of the story wrong: The American commander wouldn’t have stood triumphantly on a rowboat in daylight, but on a ferry bracing himself against a fierce snowstorm on Christmas night.
That’s the historic scene depicted in a new painting that goes on display this week at the New-York Historical Society museum in Manhattan.
“No one in his right mind would have stood up in a rowboat in that weather,” artist Mort Kunstler said. “It would have capsized.”
He told The Associated Press that he’s “not knocking the original” — the well-known 1851 painting by German-born artist Emanuel Leutze, who Kunstler says “was glorifying Washington using what he knew at the time.” But Kunstler said his new piece is aimed at righting the historical mistakes.
Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to mount a surprise attack on Hessian forces at the Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26, 1776. The Americans killed 22 Hessians, wounded 98 and captured nearly 900 while losing only three of their own men.
It was a daring feat led by the man who would become the nation’s first president, and boosted the morale of the fledgling American army.
Relying on military experts and historians, plus visits to the river site, Kunstler came up with a list of inaccuracies in Leutze’s painting and set out to correct them in his new work.
The most obvious is that Washington would not have used the earliest stars-and-stripes flag that appears in the Leutze work; it wasn’t adopted until 1777.
Instead of a rowboat, the troops probably boarded a flat-bottomed ferry big and stable enough to carry cannons, plus the horses to pull them, Kunstler said. Such boats were hitched to cables to stabilize them.
The Leutze painting shows the New Jersey shore clearly in the distance. But Kunstler says documents show a nor’easter had swept in that night, bringing freezing rain, hail and snow that would have cut the visibility.
The new painting shows a determined Washington holding onto a cannon, illuminated by a torch as he heads into battle outnumbered and underequipped.
His troops were a ragtag bunch. Instead of military uniforms, they likely wore hunting jackets and wool caps, Kunstler said.
While he was able to verify the weather, time of day and vessel type, the artist said, he based other details like clothing “on probability.”
“I don’t see any reason you can’t make this scene dramatic and exciting — and historically correct,” said Kunstler, an 81-year-old Brooklyn native.
His painting, entitled “Washington’s Crossing: McKonkey’s Ferry, Dec. 26, 1776,” debuts Monday.
Leutze’s painting is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the other side of Central Park. But art lovers will have to wait a few more weeks before they can compare the two paintings in real life: The Leutze piece is in storage pending the opening of the new American Wing on Jan. 16.
“It’s always been the one work of art people ask for,” Met spokesman Harold Holzer said. The museum recently had the painting reframed in the style in which it was first shown in New York in 1895 at a charity benefiting Civil War soldiers.
Leutze “made the scene as dramatic as he could, and it obviously has had an impact on people,” Holzer said.
Holzer, who is himself a historian, planned to participate in Monday’s presentation of Kunstler’s painting.