German Painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze: American Patriot and Artistic Visionary

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, c. 1863

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, c. 1863

Emanuel Leutze was a German-born painter who lived in America from 1825 to 1841 and again from 1859 and is usually considered a member of the American School. He is remembered mainly for his Washington Crossing the Delaware (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1851), painted in Düsseldorf, where he spent most of his career, and for another work that similarly appeals more for its patriotic sentiments than for any aesthetic merit – his large mural Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way (1861-62) one at the US Capitol, the other at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. His portraits and rare landscapes are more distinguished, but remain virtually unknown.

Washington Crossing the Delaware 1851 Oil on canvas, 379 x 648 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York This famous event from the American Revolution was painted by German-born Emanuel Leutze, who spent most of his life in the United States. He painted the first version of this picture (destroyed in World War II) in Düsseldorf, where a school of Romantic painting flourished, and immediately painted a second version - this picture - which was sent to America and exhibited throughout the country. A print published in 1853 gave the painting the status of a national monument, in spite of numerous errors in historical detail (the flag, for example, as depicted here was not introduced until six months after the event). Nevertheless, the painting captured and has held the affection of succeeding generations of Americans, for the drama of the episode, despite the melodrama, rings true.

Washington Crossing the Delaware
1851
Oil on canvas, 379 x 648 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
This famous event from the American Revolution was painted by German-born Emanuel Leutze, who spent most of his life in the United States. He painted the first version of this picture (destroyed in World War II) in Düsseldorf, where a school of Romantic painting flourished, and immediately painted a second version – this picture – which was sent to America and exhibited throughout the country. A print published in 1853 gave the painting the status of a national monument, in spite of numerous errors in historical detail (the flag, for example, as depicted here was not introduced until six months after the event). Nevertheless, the painting captured and has held the affection of succeeding generations of Americans, for the drama of the episode, despite the melodrama, rings true.

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way
1861
Oil on canvas
6.1 m × 9.1 m (20 ft × 30 ft)
United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (study) 1861 Oil on canvas 84.5 cm × 110.1 cm (33¼ in × 43⅜ in) Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (study)
1861
Oil on canvas
84.5 cm × 110.1 cm (33¼ in × 43⅜ in)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Two portraits can be seen beside the image of the San Francisco Bay. The figures represent William Clark, and Daniel Boone.

Leutze combined pioneer men and women, mountain guides, wagons, and mules to suggest a divinely ordained pilgrimage to the Promised Land of the western frontier. Within the left half of the picture is a depiction of the entrance to the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate, which is being pointed to by the pilgrim seated atop the rock in the foreground. Within the right hemisphere of the painting is a depiction of a valley, representing the Valley of Darkness and symbolic of the troubles faced by explorers. The imagery is familiar imperial iconography and is regarded as a symbol of American exceptionalism and the realization of Manifest Destiny, ultimately leading to the evolution of the American Empire.

Crash

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