Washington Crossing the Delaware is a painting that is well known to most school children through reproductions hanging
in classroom and school offices.  The real painting hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts in New York city.  It is 12 feet 2/5 inches by
21 feet and l/4 inches.  It was painted by a German born artist who later emigrated to the United States.  His name was Emmanuel Leutze.
The painting commemorates one of the most significant battles in American History.  On Christmas evening in 1776 Washington crossed the Delaware river on his way to defeat the Hussian and British troops, a turning point for the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Describing This Painting.

What is the title of the work of art?
Who is the artist?
What is the subject matter?
Describe the painting in such a way that someone who has never seen this work of art could get a mind's eye view of the painting.

Wash Crossing Delaware w Analytical Lines

Questions to Ask Yourself When Formally Analyzing This Painting.

Explore the lines, colors, textures, space, and shapes of the painting.

What is Leutze telling us in this painting?  How does he "say" it through the elements of composition?  First let's take a look at the focal point of this painting.  Our eye goes directly to the figure of George Washington, leader and first president of the United States.  How has the artist lead us to this central figure?    Washington is framed by the natural light behind him.   The light encircles the backdrop of the painting and at the same time creates a clear silhouette view of the monumental figure. The strong diagonal line of the flag and oars lead us, actually point to the central figure.   The figure of Washington stands vertically, creating a strong, solid forceful balance and stationary point in this scene.  Washington looks calm and comfortable standing on this boat that must have been rocky on this frozen river.  How does the artist create a sense of drama and crowed space?  Do you feel the labor involved in rowing this very crowded and historical boat?  How does the artist take us back into space?  Where are we the viewer spatially in relationship to the you.  Are the textures smooth, rough, shiney, matte?  Are the shapes biographic?  geometric?   Is there movement in the painting?  Is the flag waving?  What is the time day?  What is the weather like?

Questions to Ask Yourself When You are Interpretating this Painting?

What does the viewer learn about the leader George Washington from the placement and technical aspects employed by the artist Leutze?
What is the function or purpose of the painting?
Stylistically it is considered to be a Romantic painting?  What are the Romantic aspects of this painting?
How does Leutze represent the emotional aspects of a Revolution?
This painting inspired Leutze and other German artists in their own Revolution of the later 19th century.  How does Leutze reveals his interpretation of the importance of this event in this painting?

You can learn more about this painting at the website references below:

Metropolitan Museum of Art

See the painting and a game your
students can play to learn more about this

The United States Mint
Lesson Plans
50 State Lesson Plans Including the
New Jersey Commemorative Quarter that
features this painting on the back.

See a movie of the "Washington Crossing the Delaware" Museum Website online.

Go Back to the Homepage


(copyright 2003 vc)