Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze was born in Wurttemberg, Germany and was then brought to America while he was still a small child. The family settled down in Philadelphia and then later in Virginia. His father was ill during his childhood and it was only then as the young Leutze drew pictures at his dying fathers bedside to pass the time that he realized his natural affinity for painting. By the time Leutze was 14 he was already painting portraits, selling them at $5 each. Once he was financially able, Leutze toured much of Europe, eventually settling down in Dusseldorf for many years.
When Leutze was living in Europe, many revolutions, civil wars, and political upheavals were taking place. This was when Leutze created his most famous work, Washington Crossing the Delaware, in order to encourage Europe’s reformers with the example of the success of the American Revolution. Leutze was still living overseas at the time this painting was made. All fo the models that Leutze needed for the figures were American tourists or businessmen that were either vacationing or working overseas at the time. Washington stands in the forefront of the boat looking forward to the opposite shore. Oarsmen row the boat slowly forward as the man at the forefront of the boat steers huge chunks of ice out of the way of the boat. Beyond this first boat are many others, all trying to cross from the shore of New Jersey into Pennsylvania. Horses rear up on one of the distant boats. A man carrying the American flag looks the same way Washington is, forward, into the future.
Another of Luetze’s paintings is The Last of the Mohicans, a taken from a book of the same title. A Native American man is the primary focus of this painting. He stands on a rocky outcrop far above the hills and plains. The only other creature this high above the world is the great eagle flying just behind him, coming to rest at the nest sitting beside the last Mohican. Draped in furs and holding a hatchet, the last Mohican looks every bit regal and important, the king of the land who’s only equal is the eagle, a regal beast an important mythological creature in many cultures around the world.
Leutze was a very important artist of the early 1800s. His paintings are beautifully detailed works that depict history and human nature perfectly. Washington Crossing the Delaware
remains not only an influential work in both world and national history but also an important artistic achievement of a great artist.
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