Saturday

"Washington Crossing the Delaware" is not about Washington crossing the Delaware.


The fame of "Washington Crossing the Delaware" as a patriotic monument has obscured its origin as a political declaration, the proper context of which is German.

The painting was a response to the failure of the 1848 revolution in Germany. The story of how Washington had revived the morale of his troops and brought the colonists together with renewed zeal through his last-ditch attack at Trenton was then well known in Europe. Leutze decided on his subject in the fall of 1849, in the period immediately following the disbandment of the Frankfurt Parliament. Few viewing the work in Germany at that time would have missed its message: the demoralized revolutionaries of 1848, trapped in the web of the reaction, could yet rally and fight on to win, even as Washington had led his forces from despair to victory.

adapted from "'Washington Crossing the Delaware': The Political Context" by Barbara S. Groseclose, American Art Journal (November 1975)

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