“Washington Crossing the Delaware” is an 1851 painting by German-American historical painter Emanuel Leutze of American troops crossing the Delaware River, led by General George Washington. This artwork is important not only because of its fame, but because of the important period in American history it symbolizes. The American Revolution was an eighteen year long war that separated the thirteen North American colonies from the British monarchy, resulting in the creation of a new federal political system.
Overview: A man, George Washington, stands at the front of a small boat passing through tough waters. Eleven men work alongside him, rowing and protecting cargo. While Washington and those also standing appear brave and strong, those working below are tense.
Parts: Not only is one boat headed to land, but many more follow, carrying men as well as horses and weapons. Two men on Washington’s boat grasp an American flag, while those rowing seem to be struggling to push through ice. The wind and debris such as tree limbs in the water suggest that there are harsh weather conditions, as does the fact that many men are bundled in blankets or seated close together.
Title: The title, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” implies that these men, led by General Washington, are crossing the Delaware River to New Jersey, where enemy troops lie.
Interpretation: This piece is intended to represent the morning during the American Revolution where Washington led his troops across the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the Hessian troops in New Jersey. During this battle, Washington would capture Hessian prisoners, weapons, and supplies. This is was an important event in the war, as its success defined Washington’s role as an army general.
Context: In the time represented by this painting, the mid-to-late 1700s, there was a political revolution taking place in North America. Colonists of the thirteen European colonies were tired of being controlled by Europe’s system of monarchy and aristocracy. This led to a series of events and battles that would later be known as the “American Revolution,” in which a new government system was created, and the idea that “all men are created equal” was put into place.
Conclusion: This painting is a great depiction of American perseverance and courage during the times in which freedom was sought after. During the period of Romanticism in art, in which the past and nature were celebrated, Leutze’s tribute to the Revolution gives viewers a true sense of American patriotism.