Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
Biography of German-American Historical Painter.

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Washington Crossing the Delaware
(1851) (detail) Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York

Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-68)


Early Life and Career
Returns to Europe
"Washington Crossing the Delaware"
Returns to America
Famous Paintings

Paintings by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
are also widely available online
in the form of poster art.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the top historical painting,
see: Best History Painters.

For more artists like
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, see:
Modern Artists.


An important figure in American art of the 19th century, the German-born painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze lived and worked in both countries and is best remembered for his huge history painting Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). He handled the picture in the general tradition of Raphael (1483–1520) and Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665), but applied the less rigorous academic style, characteristic of his time. The work represents an historical event in the American War of Independence. Another important work is his Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1861, mural study on Capitol Hill). Leutze's portrait art and occasional landscape painting are both highly admired but remain virtually unknown.

Benjamin West (1738-1820)
"Father of American Painting".
John Singleton Copley (1738-1815)
Portraits and history paintings.
Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828)
Portraits of George Washington.
George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879)
Missouri frontier painter.
Thomas Cole (1801-48)
Founded Hudson River School.
George Inness (1825-1894)
Spread Barbizon School ideas.
Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)
Greatest US romantic landscapist.
Frederic Remington (1861-1909)
Chronicler of the Cowboy West.

For the best works, see:
Greatest Modern Paintings.

For the principal aesthetic issues
concerning the visual arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

Early Life

Leutze was born in Wurttemberg, Germany in 1816. His parents emigrated to the US in 1825, settling first in Virginia and then Philadelphia. In the ensuing years, due to his father's illness, he was forced to abandon his schooling in order to support the family. He began drawing and in 1834 started studying under the London born painter and printmaker John Rubens Smith (1775-1849). Soon after this he started working as a travelling portrait painter, earning up to $5 a picture. The few history paintings he made at this time attracted considerable praise, and he was encouraged to continue his studies in Europe.

Returns to Europe

Leutze left for Europe in 1840, where he enrolled in the Dusseldorf Academy to become a history painter. (See also his compatriot the German-American frontier landscape artist Albert Bierstadt.) Between 1842 and 1844 he studied under artists such as the Romantic Wilhelm von Schadow (1789-1862) and the historical painter Carl Freidrich Lessing (1808–80). However, he became disillusioned with the rigours of the Academy and embarked on a study-tour of Germany, Switzerland and Italy. He spent time in Munich studying the works of Peter von Cornelius (1784–1867), a master of fresco painting and history painter Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1805–74). In Rome and Venice he studied antiquities as well as the artists of the High Renaissance including Raphael, Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Titian (1488-1576). In 1842 he unveiled his Return of Columbus in Chains to Cadiz (private collection), which bought him fame and a gold medal at the Brussels Art Exhibition. After Italy he returned to Dusseldorf, married and remained there for the next 14 years.

Washington Crossing the Delaware

In Dusseldorf Leutze established his own studio and became a local figure in the American expatriate community. Soon he was considered one of the most popular American artists living abroad. In 1848 he began painting his most famous work, Washington Crossing the Delaware. This massive work (12 feet high and 21 feet wide) depicts the moment when General George Washington led the American revolutionaries across the Delaware River in order to surprise the Hessian and English troops in the Battle of Trenton (1776). Leutze brought the painting to the US for exhibition that year and completed it 2 years later. It was sold for the then enormous sum of $10,000. Due to the success of the painting, he was able to return to Dusseldorf in 1852 armed with a number of commissions for portraits and historical works. (Please Note: the Washington Crossing the Delaware which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum is Leutze's copy of his original work (1848), which was damaged by fire in 1850.)

Returns to America

In 1858 he returned to America again when he was won a commission for a mural painting for the US Capitol. He established a studio in New York and began working on his Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1862) - also commonly known as Westward Ho! After this, he returned briefly to Germany, but spent much of the remainder of his life in America. He continued to remain artistically active for the rest of his life and was a strong advocate of the National Academy of Design, serving on the Council for a term in 1865. Leutze died in 1868 from heatstroke, at the age of 52.



Famous Paintings by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

- Return of Columbus in Chains to Cadiz (1842) Private Collection
- Columbus Before the Queen (1843) Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
- Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops (1848)
- Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
- Washington rallying the troops at Monmouth (c.1854)
- Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1862) Capitol Collection, DC
- Worthington Whittredge in His Tenth Street Studio (1865)

Paintings by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze can be seen in some of the best art museums around the world.

• For biographies of other modern US artists, see: Famous Painters.
• For more details of painting in the United States, see: Homepage.

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