First exhibited at the Stuyvesant Hall in New York in 1851, Emanuel Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware captured the imagination of many Americans searching for national symbols in a time of sectionalism and disunity. Despite Leutze’s aspirations, the exhibition became an opportunity for critics of history painting to stake their positions. As suggested by the book’s title, Leutze’s epic painting is a touchstone in the evolution of American history painting. It represents a triumphant climax of the American adoption of the Grand Manner, inherited from eighteenth-century English painting, and portends its seemingly inevitable demise. From the painting’s gargantuan size, which fitted it only for a grand, public setting, to its focus on an already deified public hero, Leutze’s painting presumed a cultural as well as a political consensus—a consensus that proved illusory at best. Emanuel Leutze was arguably the most prominent American history painter of his time, and Jochen Wierich argues that Leutze’s work became the locus of contemporary debates surrounding the nature of history painting and its future.
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Jochen Wierich is Curator at Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art.Review:
“Grand Themes: Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and American History Painting brings to this topic a wide-ranging and critically informed historical lens—as well as a thoughtfulness and thoroughness—that it has never before received. What is ultimately at stake in this study is the time-honored hierarchy of the genres, in a day and place in which that hierarchy put forth, as the author puts it so well, ‘a sham form of cultural authority.’”
—Leo Mazow, University of Arkansas
“This fascinating and richly detailed historical study explains how the legendary painting Washington Crossing the Delaware, a sensation at its first public showing in 1851, provided antebellum Americans with a message of hope and unity at the very moment their nation was crumbling—and how, once civil war became inevitable, art of such immense size and unmitigated idealism lost its magnetic power. Jochen Wierich examines alternative types of history painting that emerged during the period and analyzes the critical debates they fueled. In doing so, he dusts off a neglected genre of American art and makes us see how crucial it once was in defining the country’s present by picturing its past.”
—David M. Lubin, Wake Forest University, author of Picturing a Nation: Art and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century America
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