‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ will be sold at auction

“Washington Crossing the Delaware”, a painting that portrays one of the most recognizable scenes from the American Revolution, is for sale.

Not the 21-foot canvas that fills an entire wall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the other – the approximately 3½ x 5½-foot version painted at about the same time by Emanuel Leutze, a German-American artist, in 1851.

It’s the first time since 1979 that the smaller version of the painting, which has hung in the White House for parts of four decades, is up for bid, and it is expected to sell for between $ 15 and $ 20 million when it comes to auction next. month, according to Christie’s, the auction house.

“One of the reasons ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ has undoubtedly become the most iconic resemblance to George Washington is because it portrays General Washington as a man of action,” said Paige Kestenman, a specialist in Christie’s American art department.

Before that, painters had portrayed Washington as royal, seen from the side or looking down on the battlefield, she said.

“In this case, Emanuel Leutze deliberately placed Washington in the middle of the crossroads, on the boat, among his men,” Ms. Kestenman.

It was a powerful depiction of a decisive battle in the War of Independence that was intended to inspire 19th-century European revolutionaries and renew American patriotism back in the United States, she said.

Leutze and his assistants painted three versions of the scene while in Germany. The first was painted in 1849, 73 years after the Battle of Trenton, when Washington led about 3,000 troops across Delaware’s icy waters on Christmas Day and surprised a camp of Hessian mercenaries. The attack was a success and boosted the morale of the Continental Army, which had suffered casualties at the Battle of White Plains and Forts Washington and Lee.

The first painting remained in Germany at the Kunsthalle Bremen, a museum. That painting was destroyed when the museum was bombed during an air raid in World War II.

The other two canvases were shipped to the United States after Leutze finished them in 1851. The larger canvas went to the Stuyvesant Institute in New York, where it was shown in October 1851 under bright light, Kestenman said.

“It was a real event,” she said. “It was like going to the theater to see this painting.” Over the next four months, about 50,000 people paid 25 cents a ticket to see it.

The smaller painting was always privately owned and was created so that it could be more easily reproduced by an engraver, who could then mass-produce prints of the piece. In 1973, it sold for $ 260,000, which at the time was the most anyone had ever paid for an American painting.

Six years later, it was sold for $ 370,000, Ms. Kestenman. It was lent to the White House, where it was displayed under various administrations, according to Christie’s.

In 2015, the painting briefly hung in the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona.

Ms. Kestenman said the painting is being sold by a private seller who does not want to be identified or discuss auctioning of the canvas.

“I think it’s going to sell extremely well,” said John Tilford, curator of collections for the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art in Atlanta. “It really boils down to how many very wealthy people want this painting.”

It only takes two bidders competing for the piece to get the price up, Mr. Tilford.

The value of the painting lies not only in its recognizability – it is so well known that it has been parodied by shows such as “Veep”, “The Muppets” and “Queer Eye” – but also in Leutze’s role in its creation, said Mr. Tilford.

For decades, people believed that Eastman Johnson, an American artist who later became the founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, painted the smaller version while working as Leutze’s assistant.

In recent years, art experts have concluded that Leutze painted it himself with the help of Eastman, Mr. Tilford.

“Eastman is a major artist in his own right, but you do not want to spend $ 15 to $ 20 million on an image that was copied by an assistant,” he said.

The painting is also significant because it showed how Leutze, who was an abolitionist, chose to highlight different cultures.

In the boat with Washington are men in Native American or Scottish attire. Also on board is a black man believed to be either Prince Whipple, a slave man who enlisted in the Continental Army with the promise of his freedom, or William Billy Lee, Washington’s slave-bound officer and military aid.

“It has always been recognized for its element of diversity and for showing America as an immigrant country,” he said. Tilford. “I think it’s something we do wisely to remember today.”

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