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A Glorified Crossing

Emanuel Leutze (American, 1816–1868). Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)

After the Teen Advisory Group's recent meeting in the American Wing galleries, I chose to write my blog post about Washington Crossing the Delaware, painted by Emanuel Leutze. Sitting in front of this painting, I was most struck by its size; it hangs over twelve feet high and twenty feet wide. This monumental painting seems alive, like a snapshot from the actual crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. General George Washington is standing with his legs apart, dominating the boat. He looks forward with such intent that he seems to be pulling the boat with his mind. His troops surround him as they cross the river, just after midnight, in a surprise attack on the Hessians stationed in Trenton, New Jersey.

A grey morning sky surrounds the edge of the painting. The rising sun glows in the left center of the composition, backlighting the heads of the men in the boats. His boat is full of busy men (hoisting the flag, pushing the floating ice out of the way, and rowing toward shore). The boats in the background fade into the darkness so that they won't distract from Washington.

We learn about the American Revolution in school, and this image is often in textbooks. I think images of our leaders can present specific ideas about America. Look at Washington's commanding form and the way the light radiates behind him. The American flag billowing in the center of the painting contributes to this majestic feeling. He seems to represent the powerful, brave, and strong Washington that I learned about in elementary school. In my current high school US History class, we discuss how America uses this type of image to glorify itself.

"Fight until the end for America" is the motto I chose for Leutze's painting. This motto conveys the purpose and honor reflected in the many young men by Washington's side. In my artwork below, I responded to Leutze's painting with a collage I titled American Exceptionalism.

Kristen. American Exceptionalism, 2012

The strong muscular arms represent America's military force, as reflected in the number of boats and troops in Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware. The original painting glimmers with red, white, and blue, so I used these patriotic colors to create the water, sky, and boat in my artwork. I covered the boat with words and phrases that I think describe the original painting.

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