Washington's Voyage for Liberty

What really happened across the Delaware River.

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Artist Biography (by Samarth)

Emanuel Leutze was born in Schwabisch, Wuttemberg, Germany and moved to Philadelphia as a child. His talents in art developed not from school, but from idly sketching while waiting for his father to recover. However art soon gained an increased importance in his life after his father’s death when he began selling his work for money. Leutze then received a formal education in art from John Rubens Smith who was a local engraver and portrait painter. Finally after many successes in the European Art scene with works like “Columbus in Chains” and “Columbus before Council” Leutze created his biggest work : “Washington Crossing the Deleware”. This work’s purpose was to inspire and encourage the European liberals powering the Revolutions of 1848 going on in Europe. Leutze also left his mark on the Capitol Building when he was commissioned by the U.S. Congress to paint a stairway in that building. This piece was titled “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way”. While Leutze isn’t known for his artistic talent, he is known for the large amounts of American exceptionalism that he was able to incorporate into his artwork. Leutze died at the age of 52 on 1868 at Washington D.C..

Art Critique (by Abhi)

The painting Washington Crossing the Delaware by Leutze is notable for its artistic composition. General Washington is emphasized by an unnaturally bright sky, while his face catches the upcoming sun. The colors are mostly darker by nature (since it is dawn), but there is a beautiful sunrise in the east, the direction in which Washington and his army are headed. This almost represents a sense of hope to the cold and deprived soldiers, who had recently lost New York to the British. Perspective seen through distant boats lends depth to the painting while a close-up of Washington emphasizes his prominence and grandeur. The people in the boat represent diversity from the American Colonies, including a man in a bonnet and a black man facing backward next to each other in the front, western riflemen at the front, two farmers in broad-brimmed hats near the back (one with bandaged head), and a questionable rower in a red shirt, possibly meant to be a woman in man's clothing. There is also a man at the back of the boat wearing what appears to be Native American garb, possibly representing colonial appropriation of previously indigenous holdings, but also possibly to represent the idea that all people in the new United States of America were present in the boat along with Washington on his way to victory and success.

Story Truth (by Ankith)

The “story truth” of Washington Crossing the Delaware River is more emphatic on the emotional aspects than the reality of the moment. As seen in the picture, General Washington is seen gloriously and heroically crossing the Delaware River, accompanied by a myriad of patriots,horses, and boats. This moment was seen as very important at the time of the revolution because the American flag is shown, held by a patriot. The flag is symbolic of the glory and “american exceptionalism” that would soon be achieved after the War of Independence. Another symbol of hope depicted in the painting was the shift of the sky’s color from right to left. As Washington sails to the left, the sky becomes clearer and brighter. This represents the attainment of independence that the patriots would soon win. Overall, the story truth of the painting emphasizes glory and the attainment of liberty with General Washington crossing a plethora of hardships (represented by the icebergs and the darkness from the right). General Washington and the patriots were ready for the War of Independence, no matter what would happen to their relations with their mother country. Because of Washington's intelligence and popularity among the colonies, the patriots were confident in him to lead them to success.

Happening Truth (by Terry)

Washington’s army was pushed back across the Delaware River fleeing General Howe’s army after Howe took New York. The moral of Washington’s army was low, and many soldier’s enlistment period were due to expire by Christmas. Washington devised a quick and bold move to attack the German mercenaries serving the British that were stationed across the Delaware River on Christmas Eve. Washington mainly used Durham boats, which were boats that were 40-80 ft (unlike those depicted on the painting), were used to cross the river. Washington and his army also used ferryboats, and any craft they could find. On the night Washington attacked, it was dark at night, and inclement weather of rain and snow hampered movements of Washington’s army. The army defeated the mercenaries and crossed back over the Delaware to Pennsylvania. Another crossing was later done on New Year’s Eve to defeat another regiment of British and German mercenaries. Both crossings were a decisive victory, and did inspire many soldiers to sign up for six more weeks, while also giving more faith to the Continental Congress.

War Story

I, General Washington, am voyaging across the Delaware River along with my fellow patriots. Our men are deserting, supplies are low, and worst of all, morale is non-existent. If we do not act soon, all hope will be lost. My men and I are risking our lives for liberty, and as of now, everything is riding on this. I, General Washington, swear to our land, America, that we will win our independence and save our land, no matter the cost. Even though the water is bitter cold, our hearts are still burning with passion. We ride at dawn with the new day shining upon our souls, riding the river with our names upon it. God bless America!