This finely executed engraving is after the important early painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, an oil-on-canvas by the German American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, painted in 1850. This print was engraved by Paul Girardet, printed and published by Goupil & Co., 1853, with a copyright by M. Knoedler, New York.
Leutze's painting commemorates General George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on the night of December 25–26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War. That action was the first move in a surprise attack against the Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey, in the Battle of Trenton. As the end of 1776 came to a close, the American army was exhausted, depleted, and demoralized. The British had run revolutionary forces out of both New York and New Jersey. Knowing that the majority of the militia’s period of service was about to expire on the 31st of December, it was imperative that Washington craft a strategic and offensive next move.
In a bold decision, Washington and his men took to their boats in the middle of the night on December 25th. They crossed at McConkey’s Ferry, PA, in fierce weather and across a swollen and icy Delaware River. At dawn the next morning, they took the inactive camp of the Hessians by surprise at Trenton. Two subsequent battle wins, one at Trenton on January 2nd and the other at Princeton on January 3rd, gave the American morale the boost it needed, strengthening its cause.
Leutze’s painting of the crossing has become the most iconographic image of American Revolutionary history. Leutze began his first painted version of the crossing in 1849, while studying in Germany. The painting was damaged in a studio fire in 1850 and, although later restored and acquired by the Bremen Kunsthalle, it was again destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942. Ever determined to finish a painting of the crossing, Leutze began a second painted version of the subject in 1850.
Almost as soon as he began painting it, Leutze’s magnificent painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware was sold to the publishers Mssrs. Goupil in 1851 for seven thousand dollars. In September 1851 the finished oil was brought to New York and exhibited at the Stuyvesant Institute. At the exhibit, 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 in the Volume 12 of “The Literary World”, the print would be available in four versions: print impressions on plain paper for twelve dollars; print impressions on India paper for fifteen dollars; and proofs before letters on plain or India paper, for twenty-four and thirty dollars respectively; coloring was also offered as an option quoted in the prospectus at $24.
Three years later Goupil published a smaller version of this print, measuring 13 x 23 inches, one that was hungrily purchased by the American public. The smaller image was so ubiquitous that Mark Twain commented sardonically upon its presence over countless mantelpieces in Life on the Mississippi. Despite this, it has become increasingly difficult to find impressions of this print, in any size, especially in good condition.
Washington Crossing the Delaware has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies, but it is important to remember that 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 March 1851 issue of “The International Monthly” suggests how the public should view the print:
“In this picture the artist has depicted the events of the hour in which the destiny of the Free States of North America was decided for centuries through the boldness of their courageous and prudent leader. The means of continuing the war were almost exhausted; the army threatened in a few days to dissolve itself; the cause of freedom for that continent, with its inestimable consequences for ancient Europe, would have been postponed, no one can tell how long, perhaps forever...
...The picture reproduces the moment when the great general, ahead of the mass of the army, which had also just embarked, and part of which are passing off from the shore, and part already struggling with the driving ice, is steering to the opposite shore in a small boat, surrounded by eleven heroic figures, officers, farmers, soldiers, and boatmen. 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 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 expressed in their whole bearing, in every movement, in the eyes and features of all. Under the influence of this thought they command the raging elements, so that the masses of ice seem to dissolve before the will and energy of these men. 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.”
The black and white engraving is in very good condition, with full margins and titles intact. In the bottom margin, the number “176” is written in ink by hand in the center of the printer’s stamp indicating the subscriber’s edition number. Print Dimensions: is 24 1/4"H x 39"W.
This engraving is presented in a stunning and fully restored, period gilt frame, with a new linen top mat, gold spandrel, acid-free mating and backing, and gilt titled plaque.
Framed Dimensions: 37"H x 51"W x 2 1/2"D
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