Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A New Look at Washington Crossing You Know What


On Dec. 26. 2011, the 235th anniversary, in the auditorium of the refurbished New York Historical Society, Mort Kunstler, the well-known history painter, revealed on a large screen on the stage a whole new look at one of the most famous events in American history. George Washington and his Life Guard cross the Delaware, with ice all around them, not in floes, but in a continuous whitish sheet. Their craft is a wide flat ferry, which is being hauled on a cable. Washington stands beside a lone cannon, looking grimly determined, while the men cluster around him. The painting is, to put it mildly, drastically different from the 1851 Emmanuel Leutze version, which was restored and rehung with great ceremony at theMetropolitan Museum of Art on January 16. Backing up Mr. Kunstler was David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis University, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, Washington’s Crossing. He confirmed all the details of the Kunstler painting. There were “ferrymen” involved in the crossing, possibly the same ones who operated a peacetime ferry at the site. The Delaware was only 300 feet wide, making a cable more than possible. Ferries had to be large enough to carry carriages and horses in 1776. Did Washington’s whole army use this craft, which looks remarkably fragile? No, Mr. Fischer said. Most of the troops used the big ore barges, called Durham boats. He pointed to several dark shadows in the background of Washington’s ferry, as these backup craft. Will Mr. Kunstler’s painting replace Leutze? Harold Holzer, the noted Civil War historian and Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Metropolitan, who participated in the NYHS program, declined to make a prediction. But he dwelt on the fact that the Leutze has become “iconic.” It will take time for Mr. Kunstler’s version to reach that status. But everyone agrees it is a superb and fascinating work of art. For those who want a look at the painting, go to the NY Times websiteand type in Dec. 23, Crossing the Delaware, Accurately, by Corey Kilgannon.

written by Thomas Fleming
American Revolution Round Table - January 2012 Newsletter

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Knstler, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright 2001-2011. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.