Two years ago almost to the day, on January 16, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City reopened the “American Wing” to the public after a decade-long restoration that included recreating the original frame for the “best-known painting in America’s best-known museum”: Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Measuring 12 ft. 5 in. by 21 ft. 3 in., it was painted in 1851 by the German born artist, Emmanuel Leutze, in his studio in Dusseldorf Germany. It entered the Met’s collection in 1897 after a much storied journey of its own, as told in the Met’s booklet: Washington Crossing the Delaware: Restoring an American Masterpiece.
The booklet explains that Leutze was considered an American artist because of “his early years that were spent with his father in Philadelphia.” He returned to Germany when he was 25 years old, where he enrolled in the Royal Art Academy in Dusseldorf. The booklet goes on to say that he showed an early interest as a historical painter in “subjects having to do with conquest”:
“The thread connecting his subjects was revolutionary change, from what he saw as despotic rule in the old world to the land of the free that he experienced growing up in the United States…”
Interestingly, Leutze used his American friends who were in Dusseldorf and his studio mates as models for the painting, including painter Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), whose majestic paintings “Sunrise on the Matterhorn” and “The Rocky Mountain” are exhibited in the same room in the Met as Washington Crossing the Delaware.
The painting hangs as a centerpiece in its own special room that one approaches on a long walk down a hall, which is adorned with paintings of George Washington and other of our nation’s founders. It is truly breathtaking when you finally arrive and embrace the painting’s grandeur depicting Washington crossing the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776, six months after signing the Declaration of Independence.
The room offers several benches to sit and contemplate not just the awe-inspiring painting and its history, but the history of our country as well. The other adjoining rooms are also well worth a visit, housing some of America’s most prominent painters including: Winslow Homer, Mary Cassat, Frederic Edwin Church, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Eakins and others.
We also recommend walking through the “Arm and Armor” room on your way to the “American Wing”, where you will find the magnificent and rotund King Henry VIII in his field armor made in 1527 of steel, gold and copper alloy probably of “Italian makinge.” This is a fun exhibit for children and adults alike, transporting one back to what has been called the Romantic Age of Chivalry – although when you see the craftsmanship and heft of the armor and weapons, you quickly get a sense that it was more brutal than romantic. But, the thought of King Arthur still harmlessly reigns in the romantic imagination: “Maybe he will make thee a Knight of His Round Table – and there is no honor in all the world that can be as great as that!” (said in King Arthur, Knights of the Round Table).
The winter months are a perfect time for museum going, as they stimulate our senses and inspire our imaginations. Similar to movies, they transport us back to unfamiliar places and past times, teaching us a bit of history along the way.
Below is a list of some renowned museums in the United States, in addition to others that are lesser known. What are your favorites?
See also our post from earlier this week on our Founding Fathers.
Washington, D.C. Museums:
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
National Gallery of Art
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History
The Art Institute of Chicago
The Museum of Science & Industry
Maine Maritimes Museum (Bath)
Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland)
Portland Museum of Art (Portland)
Winslow Homer Museum (Portland)
The Getty Center (Los Angeles)
USS Midway Museum (San Diego)
The Henry Ford Museum (Derborn, Michigan)
Heinz History Center (Pittsburgh, PA)
Andy Warhol Museum (Pittsburgh, PA)
Cleveland Museum of Art (Cleveland, OH)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland, OH)