GW Crossing the Deleware

By Emanule Gottlieb Leutze, 1851

Identity of the Author

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze was born in Wurttenburg, Germany and was brought to the United States as a child. His family finally settled in Philadelphia, where he started to draw paintings for five dollars each to support his family after the death of his father. Once his art career had started Emanuel moved to Europe to pursue his dream of painting. During the American Revolutionary War, he found himself becoming a strong supporter for European Revolutions and he wanted to paint a picture that could motivate the people of Europe to rebel against the established rule. He hoped the majestic painting depicting Washington leading his men through the icy river could encourage Europe's liberal reformers to revolt.
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Story Truth

The painting, “George Washington's Crossing of the Delaware River”, captures the historic event of George Washington's surprise attack against the Hessian forces in Trenton, New Jersey during the revolutionary war. This painting; however, depicts the event patriotically, not how it actually occurred.

In the Painting, George Washington is depicted standing upright with confidence on a small row boat. Filled to its maximum occupancy, Washington's stance is not plausible because he would be knocked off the ship or even cause it to tip over. This stance however displays a since of nationalism and pride that would not be present otherwise if he was shown sitting low on the boat as he would be in reality. A sense of confidence and calmness sweeps over the painting as the crew easily rows through the freezing, ice covered waters of the Delaware River. The crew seem comfortably warm in their dry, well covering clothing. Moving attention to the man dedicated to holding the striped united states flag, he has no other task but to wave the flag above the scene during the time of preparation and mobilization for war. Patriotically depicted by this painting, The Continental Army's task of winning the war is not only a given, but an easy task at that.

Critque of the Painting

In Emanule Gottlieb Leutze’s painting Washington Crossing the Delaware; Leutze uses a variety of techniques to establish the emotion and message of the painting. By doing so, Leutze foregoes the truth in favor of communicating to the viewer the valor and righteousness of the cause.

Most notably Leutze uses chiaroscuro, or contrasts between light and shadow, to convey the emotional appeal of the painting. By casting the majority of the troops in the darkness, Leutze creates the illusion of the struggle to win freedom. However, he uses the sunrise in the background to juxtapose Washington from the rest of the troops. By doing so, he creates the impression of Washington as the glorious leader who will lead the troops to victory. This message is only furthered by Washington’s pose, as opposed to the rest of the troops, is standing upright and gazing forward.

Leutze decided to focus on the message of the event rather than the facts, and by doing so he created on of the symbolic pieces of American history.

War Story

Happening Truth

The event of George Washington Crossing the Delaware occurred on the night of December 25-26, 1776. It was the first step in the surprise attack against the Hussian forces from Germany. Washington leading his troops across the Delaware was a dangerous and difficult operation. Most attempts in this operation were ineffective or called off; however, Washington and his troops were successful in this surprise attack and defeated the troops in Trenton.

In the Painting George Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze ice is depicted in the river. This is correct because the third time crossing the river, the journey was more difficult due to the thickness of the ice in the river. It also shows the men paddling with expressions of extreme focus, showing the accuracy of the struggle in the crossing of the river and the hardships they faced with controlling the dingy. The men also were malnourished, soaking wet, and freezing, adding to their struggle of getting across the river. Many of Washington's troops were present in the crossing, traveling on many boats. The troops also traveled at night, where it was dark enough to conceal the boats movement in the water. Washington was one of the first people to cross, however the troops lacked artillery and weapons due to the difficulty of getting all materials needed for battle. After the difficult journey made by Washington and his troops the men were finally ready to attack at 4am.

The Defeat of the British at Trenton

It was a cold winter the morning of December 26th, one of the low points of the war, but George Washington’s soldiers were unfazed by the brutality. While crossing the Delaware river, they heroically the freezing water despite the bitter conditions, lack of food and water. Despite all the odds, it did not prevent George Washington from surprising and annihilating the unprepared British troops in Trenton. Even the Hessian mercenaries, some of the best soldiers of the time period were forced to concede unquestionable victory to the Revolutionary troops. The fleets soared toward the battle site with confidence, boasting the flag. Not even the forces of nature, the icy waters and wind of the Delaware River could withhold victory from the American troops.