Famous Artists, German American, History Highlights

A German artist created the famous painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware

A German artist named Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze memorialized the dramatic event of Washington Crossing the Delaware. Leutze conceived the idea for this famous painting during the German Revolutions of 1848. He was hoping to encourage Germany’s liberal reformers through the example of the American Revolution.

There were actually two versions of this painting. Leutze began his first version of this subject in 1849 using American tourists and art students as models and assistants in his Düsseldorf studio. But this first painting was damaged in his studio by fire in 1850. After It was restored, the Kunsthalle in Bremen purchased the painting and it stayed in Germany for 92 years until it was totally destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942.

The second version…the painting depicted here…was started in 1850 and placed on exhibit in New York in October, 1851. At this showing Marshall O. Roberts bought the canvas for the then-enormous sum of $10,000 (about $348,000 today’s value). In 1853, M. Knoedler published an engraving of it and many copies of the painting now exist.

The painting was a great success, not only in America but also in Germany. One reason that this event garnered so much interest in Germany was the fact that the American Revolution provided moral support to Germany’s 1848 revolutionaries. A second reason is that many Germans were involved in the American Revolutionary War, both for and against the new United States.

Washington’s attack on the Hessians at Trenton on on a freezing Christmas Eve in 1776 is a famous example of Germans fighting for the British. However, we should not forget that the number of Germans fighting for General Washington were numerous, considering that Germans were 10% of the colonist population, In addition, German professional soldiers from Europe volunteered to help the colonists, most notably the Prussian officer Baron von Steuben and the Bavarian officer Baron Johann deKalb (Kalb received a French Baron title in recognition of his military prowess while serving in the Loewendal German Regiment of the French Army during the Seven Year War. 

One vivid example of Germans fighting on both sides is the crucial Battle of Yorktown. At Yorktown Germans played significant roles in all three armies, accounting for roughly 33% of all forces involved. According to one estimate, more than 2,500 German soldiers served at Yorktown with the British, another 2500 with the French, and more than 3,000 German-Americans served in Washington’s army.

Overall, approximately 30,000 German soldiers fought for the British during the American Revolutionary War, making up a quarter of all the soldiers the British sent to America. This was not unusual because King George III came from an ethnic German family that also ruled Hanover and he was the first of the British royal House of Hanover to speak English as his first language. Secondly, Great Britain and many German states had been allies in previous wars. The Germans that fought for King George were called Hessians, but were from other areas also, and fought in their own traditional uniforms under their usual officers and their own flags. They were under the overall command of British generals. Nearly half were from the Hesse region of Germany (which is the origin of their name); the others came from similar small German states. Several more German units were placed on garrison duty in the British Isles to free up British regulars for service in North America.


Emanuel Leutze divided his time between Germany and the US, mostly in Düsseldorf, New York and Washington DC. In 1862 he finished painting Westward Ho!, a giant mural for the west stairwell of the House wing of the Capitol, 6 years before his death at age 52 in Washington, D.C.

Emmanuel Leutze, Westward Ho! mural in Washington DC, west wing of the capital

A few more examples of works by Leutze

Emmanuel Leutze, Western Emigrant Train Bound for California Across the Plains, Alarmed by Approach of Hostile Indians
Emmanuel Leutze, Arranging a marriage circa 1600s
Emanuel_Leutze, Columbus before the Queen, painted in 1843


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