Seth Kaller, Inc.

Inspired by History

Other George Washington Offerings

More...


Other African American History Offerings

More...

Washington Crossing the Delaware (SOLD)
Click to enlarge:

[EMANUEL GOTTLIEB LEUTZE]. Engraving. Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Paul Girardet after Leutze’s painting. New York, N.Y., Goupil & Co., 1853. Mezzotint and line engraving on India paper, mounted as issued to a larger sheet of engraving paper, printed caption, “Subscriber’s copy,” numbered “50.” 38¼ x 22¼ in., framed 51 x 38½ in.

Inventory #21086       SOLD — please inquire about other items

Historical Background
Late December 1776 found the American Army ragged and demoralized, having been chased out of New York and New Jersey by the British. With the majority of the militia’s period of service about to expire on the 31st, Washington took the bold step of planning an offensive. The army crossed the Delaware on the night of December 25, 1776, at McKonkey’s Ferry, PA, under cover of fierce weather and water swollen by ice flows. At dawn the next morning they took the Hessians by surprise at Trenton. January 2, 1777 saw another American victory at Trenton and one at Princeton the following day, giving a huge morale boost to the American cause.

This is an imposing and impressive version of one of the most iconographic images of American history. Leutze’s magnificent painting of Washington crossing the Delaware was sold to Mssrs. Goupil in 1851 almost as soon as he began painting it. In September 1851 the finished oil was brought to New York and exhibited at the Stuyvesant Institute and Goupil began accepting subscriptions at a reduced price for an engraved version, intended to be the largest line engraving ever printed. According to a prospectus issued by Goupil, the print would be available in four versions: print impressions on plain paper for fifteen dollars; print impressions on India paper (as here) for twenty dollars; and proofs before letters on plain or India paper, for thirty and forty dollars respectively; coloring was also offered as an option, but no price is quoted in the prospectus. Three years later Goupil published a smaller version (image size 23 by 13 5/8”). The image was so ubiquitous that Mark Twain commented sardonically upon its presence over countless mantlepieces in Life on the Mississippi. Despite this, it has become difficult to find nice copies of this print in any size, with India paper copies quite rare, and those labeled “Subscribers copy” almost non-existent.

Washington Crossing the Delaware, has been criticized endlessly for its historical inaccuracies, but Leutze was an artist and not a historian; the tradition of history painting in which he practiced attempted to portray the significance of events, not document them. The prospectus for the print suggests how the public should view the image:

The tall and majestic form of the man in whose hands at that hour lay the fate of millions, rises from the group, standing slightly bent forward, with one foot on the bottom of the boat, the other on the forward bench. His mild, yet serious and commanding glance seems seeking to pierce the mist of the farther shore, and discover the enemy, while intimations of the future grandeur of his country rise upon his mind. Nothing of the youthful rashness appears in the expression of this figure, but the thoughtful artist has depicted the ‘heart for any fate’ of the general and statesman in noble, vigorous, and faithful traits. And what an impulse moves through the group of his companions! Their thought is, ‘Forward, invincibly forward, for our country!’...This is a picture by the sight of which, in this weary and exhausted time, one can recover health and strength. Let none miss a draught from such a goblet of nectar.

Washington’s Black Boatman
The identity of the black rower near Washington’s right knee has been debated for years, but remains unknown.  “By the mid-1980s, Leutze’s inclusion of [the man]…was increasingly noted in emergent discussions of both representations of blacks in Western art (see Honour) and African-American military history (see Quarles; Holton; Lanning 1997 and 2000; Weir).” (Cutler)

William C. Nell’s groundbreaking Colored Patriots of the Revolution, published four years after Leutze’s painting was unveiled, first identified Declaration Signer William Whipple’s slave Prince Whipple as the rower.  “Although Leutze likely never heard the Prince Whipple story…there have been art critics and historians since who made the connection.  Other…names from other states have been suggested [including Washington’s valet William Lee, and Lexington, Massachusetts patriot Prince Estabrook], but Prince Whipple has been the most popular.”  More recent scholarship shows that William Whipple was in Baltimore at the time, and it is posited that he “would not likely have sent Prince 130 miles on his own to serve with Washington.” (Robinson)

“Critics point out that Leutze shows the wrong flag and the wrong type of boat in his painting.  Washington could not have been standing dramatically in the boat, the floating blocks of ice are inaccurate and the crossing was at night, not in daylight.  Defenders point out that it is a symbolic representation, a work of art,” not exact history.  As a symbolic Prince Whipple, the man represents the thousands of enslaved and freed African Americans who fought for the American cause during the Revolution, including those who are known to have crossed the Delaware that night.  Even more abstractly, “George Washington symbolizes the indomitable human spirit.  The boat symbolizes America.  Critics point out that the people rowing seem to be immigrants from different nations.  One looks like a Native American.  Another appears to be a woman.” (Robinson)

To us black re-enactors [of the Crossing], this man has become a symbol of the contribution African-American people made to this country’s freedom.  Who is this man?  Is he meant to represent an actual person who historically crossed with Washington?  We do not know.  No one really knows who crossed with Washington, but what we do know is, in depicting this event, Leutze felt it was important to have this African present. (Becton)

Condition

Professionally cleaned, with some faint residual browning in the upper blank margins, a few minor imperfections including a split to the India paper in the upper left portion; the imperfections are visible upon close examination, but viewed at arm’s length they are virtually invisible. The India paper sheet measures 39 by 24 ¾ in. with caption, the larger sheet is 49½ by 30 in. Framed size is 51 x 37½ in.

References

Becton, Joseph and Noah Lewis.  Contribution of a Free and Enslaved People. 

Washington Crossing Historic Park.  http://www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing/history/contribution.htm

Cutler, Jody B.  “Art Revolution: Politics and Pop in the Robert Colescott Painting George

Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware.”  http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2009/cutler.htm

Nell, William C.  Colored Patriots of the Revolution (1855).

Robinson, J. Dennis.  Black Man with Washington Crossing the Delaware. 

http://www.seacoastnh.com/History/History_Matters/Black_Man_with_Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware/

Whipple, Prince. 

http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/4512/Whipple-Prince-c-1750-1797.html