Emanuel Leutze - Washington crosses the Delaware

by Alexandra Tuschka


With the "Crossing of Washington over the Delaware" the Swabian artist Emanuel Leutze created one of the main works of glorification of North American history. This has been circulated as far as postage stamp form. Leutze depicts an important moment in the American wars of liberation. The crossing of the Delaware was Washington's first secretly planned attack against the Hessians at Trenton in the war of the same name.

Although Leutze was committed to realism, he was not concerned with involving the viewer in the picture's events. Rather, the high pathos of the painting keeps him at a distance. The pictorial world is completely self-contained.


Washington's figure is shown exposed and immediately catches the viewer's eye. The unnaturally bright sky and his upright posture distinguish him as the protagonist of the work. Washington's single-mindedness contrasts with the difficult weather conditions. The waving American flag and the ice floe-strewn sea give his men every trouble.

The painter's choice to have the boat sail from right to left, against the usual direction of reading, also supports this impression. Washington seems to be the only person who has no trouble withstanding the wind. His position, actually quite unstable, appears rather statuesque here.

Several units follow, formatted in a line, a full boat length behind. Horses and cannons are also visible here. Behind them, getting smaller and smaller, more follow. On the left edge of the picture, however, a section of landscape appears, and thus the long-awaited target.


Emanuel Leutze - Washington crosses the Delaware

Oil on canvas, 1851, 378.5 x 647.7 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York

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