George Washington crosses the Delaware, American pride!


15_Leutze_Washington-Crossing-the-DelawareThe MET contains the largest American Art collection,  but  American Art  is not an artistic movement as symbolism, and expressionism, but says in effect, the birth of the American people, evolution, wars, battles between Native Americans, but also between the Americans and the British, on the slavery of blacks, etc..

Starting at the entrance, I’m flooded with portraits that show the History of Independence and the various American presidents of the nineteenth century, and then joined in a bright room, where there  is one of the most famous paintings of American culture: George Washington Crossing the river Delaware. This bridge was built in 1851 by Emanuel Leutze. The work commemorates the crossing of the Delaware River from Pennsylvania to New Jersey by General George Washington; to mount a surprise attack on the British troops on the nights of 25 and 26 December 1776, during the American Revolution. It was thanks to that battle, that American troops defeated the British and managed to have independence. The painter was famous not only in America, but especially in his homeland, in Germany. In fact, the painting was originally part of the collection Kunsthalle in Bremen,  but was damaged in a British bombardment in 1942, so his son painted a second version which is precisely here, in front of me!DSC02036

There are so many copies, one of which is located in the west wing of the White House. In addition to being a pivotal point in American history, the painting has a story – it’s very interesting, because it contains many inaccuracies. Suffice it to say, that it was painted a century later by a German painter, and mostly painted in Germany. As already stated a  “surprise” attack happened at night, but General Washington is highlighted in an unnatural way, to a bright sky, and his face shines in bright sunlight and should not be there because there was little natural light, and  this did portray  a very different picture. There are mysterious light sources beyond the sun, as you can see on the face of the front rower  and we understand from the shadows on the water, was added to give depth. The river is modeled on the Rhine, where the ice tends to form in irregular blocks, as in the photo, not in large sheets, as is more common in Delaware. However, it was assumed that the Delaware River was really icy, as indicated, because of the little ice age that was taking place at that time. The colors are made up of mostly dark tones, as is to be expected at dawn, but there are red highlights repeated throughout the painting. The fore shortening  perspective, and the distant boats, all serve to give depth to the painting and bring out to the fore,  the ship on which Washington stood. People on the boat, represent  a cross-section of the American colonies, including a man in a hood;  a  Scottish  person and a man of African origin-facing side by side in the front;  western riflemen at the bow and stern, two farmers with wide-brimmed hats at the bottom of the boat, (one with a bandaged head) and a rowing machine in a red shirt,  perhaps representing a woman in men’s clothes. There is also a man at the back of the boat who seems to be a Native American.DSC02039

The man standing next to Washington holding the flag is Lieutenant James Monroe, the future president of the United States. In addition, General Edward Hand, who had  accepted the sword of surrender from Charles Cornwallis during the siege of Yorktown, is shown seated and holding that inside the jar.

The flag pictured is the original flag of the United States (the “Stars and Stripes”), the design of which did not exist at the time of the passage of Washington. The design of the flag has been defined only since  June 14, 1777, with the resolution of the Second Continental Congress flag, and waved for the first time September 3, 1777 and after passing through the streets of Washington in 1776. A flag historically accurate would have been the  Grand Union, officially hoisted himself by Washington January 2, 1776, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as the standard of the Continental Army and the first national flag.

Artistic concerns are the source of further errors as detected by historians. For example, the boat is the wrong model, since it seems too small to carry all the occupants staying afloat, but this emphasizes the struggle of the soldiers at the oars. In addition, the Delaware is much narrower than the river in the painting. It also rained during the crossing. So, the men did not bring the horses or field artillery across the river in boats, but instead had them transported by ferry.
Finally, the location of Washington, which has the purpose of representing in a heroic manner, it would have been very difficult to maintain views of the storm conditions during the crossing. Considering that he is standing in a rowboat, such an attitude would have threatened to overturn the boat. However, the historian David Hackett Fischer argued that everyone would be standing to avoid the icy water on the bottom of the boat (the boats have actually used more higher edges). Despite all these mistakes, it is still an irreplaceable piece of American culture.

Continuing in the next room, seems to be a mix of ‘ Gone with the Wind’  movie or the Far DSC02044West: bronze statues of redskins and valleys of the western part of America. In fact, since the early 1800s American artists took much notice of the expanses of the “Far West.” There was a movement that goes from 1860 to 1910 as a result of urbanization and industrialization of those stretches, where you can see in western movies, disappeared, becoming only a legend, just like the natives who lived there. So the few artists of that nature, show nostalgia at the  devastation  of  urbanization, painted those valleys,  and painted the “Native American”. One of the sculptor’s active in this movement was Fredrick Remington. His sculptures are in fact redskins and cowboys in bronze.  Hermon Atkins MacNeil instead through painting, depicts the native tribes. You can feel the nostalgia of the tribe through their faces, it seems as if we wanted to say goodbye, as if they knew their fate. MacNeil was hired to produce  a sculpture, destined for the city of Portland, Oregon.

DSC02057The title “Coming of the White Man”, it is the submission and subsequent extinction of indigenous peoples. The reproduction of the sculpture in fact sees the white man who imprisons two members of the Chinook tribe of the Western Pacific. The posture is proud and haughty, and posed with dignity. Looking at those faces I realize how Western culture has destroyed the human nature, that despite being primitive and nomadic, they respected fully their  natural surroundings.. For example, the redskins when they killed a buffalo or taking a plant or an animal killed, gave thanks to mother earth the gifts offered toher, and when they killed the animals, they prayed for their spirit.  Even in our days there are “Americans” who kill animals and innocent people for power, the pleasure of killing, and to be the strongest. Why not take a cue and try to appreciate the sacrifice for the meat we eat and not to abuse it. Sometimes I think that the primitive life of the nomads of those tribes was probably better than what we have now. It would be interesting to hear what nature tells us  – to dwell on the rays of the sun, which strengthens our bones, to hear the howling of the wind, the beating of the rain, the rustle of the trees, pause for a moment to listen to and be  thankful for what the land gives us.

I raise my eyes from extinction, disappointed, and I see the statue of Abraham Lincoln by DSC02060Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The sculpture “Abraham Lincoln: The Man” is the reduced copy of a bronze statue depicting the 16th American President. The original statue is in Lincoln Park in Chicago, and several replicas have been installed in other places around the world. Completed in 1887, it has been described as the most important sculpture of Lincoln in the 19th century. The sculpture depicts Lincoln rising from a chair, to make a speech. The other replicas are located in Parliament Square in London, in Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois, and Lincoln Park in Mexico City. Also interesting paintings by Jerome B. Thompson, reflect the admiration of the scenery of the Hudson River from Mount Mansfield.  I meet another sculpture of Saint-Gaudens: the goddess Diana. This is also the scale model and the original, the goddess, completely showing the golden arches arc before firing the arrow, was destined at the height of the tower of Madison Square Garden, which was demolished in 1975. Check in at the end of the Metropolitan in front of a fountain and reproductions of classical statues of the time and Egyptian columns. A guard approached and told me that the museum will close shortly and invites me to go to the exit. I step in front of the remains of a temple of Mesopotamia and go to leave the Museum, a bit dazed, I may have too much stored information, however, breath coming out of the culture and I find I start to get into the American culture and traditions.

Going to the exit, I step in front of the ruins of Mesopotamia and the Middle Eastern art.

Fabio Chiarini



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