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 Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze  (1816 - 1868)

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Lived/Active: District Of Columbia/New York / Germany      Known for: historical genre and portrait painting, mural

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Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze
from Auction House Records.
The Last of the Mohicans
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Brought to the United States from Germany when he was nine years old, Emanuel Leutze was raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and then in Philadelphia where he got his art instruction from John Rubens Smith.  Early recognized for his portrait and figure painting, he became well-known in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and in Southern States where he was in Fredericksburg, Virginia. 

In 1839, he returned to Philadelphia. Local persons, aware of his unusual talent, sponsored him to study at Dusseldorf Art Academy* in Germany, where he stayed from 1841 to 1859. There the curriculum emphasis was on historical painting, and Leutze studied with Karl Lessing, German historical painter, and from this influence Leutze did a series of paintings on Christopher Columbus and the discovery of America.  Most of Leutze's history painting was based on English and American history.

Leutze left the Academy to set up his own studio and hosted and mentored many American art students and other visitors from the United States. He became the link between what is known as the Dusseldorf School* of historical painting and the American School, which was also expanding into landscape and genre painting.  He also traveled extensively in Germany and Italy.

Leutze is best known for two historical paintings, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1850, and Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, 1862. Ironically, Washington Crossing the Delaware was intended by him to buoy the spirits of German liberals whose Revolution in 1848 had failed, but it became interpreted as an expression of American patriotism. Many of his American friends in Dusseldorf were models for the work.

Its wide circulation in America was due to representatives of the New York gallery of Goupil, Vibert and Company, established in 1848 to disseminate in America, work by European artists, and to familiarize Europeans with American culture.  Previous to Leutze's painting, the company had circulated other mezzotints* of Washington based on Gilbert Stuart's Athenaeum-type portraits, but Washington Crossing the Delaware  was "unrivaled in Goupil's repertoire of American historical subjects." (McIntosh 70).  

However, delivery of the Leutze image to the public had a rocky start because in 1850, shortly after the painting was completed, it was destroyed by a fire. However, insurance money was sufficient to pay Leutze to paint another like it, which Goupil purchased for the equivalent of $6000.00, and which in 1853, engraver Paul Girardet used to make a large-scale line engraving*, described in the Bulletin of the American Art Union, December 1850, as "a plate of the largest size ever used." (McIntosh 71).  

Six months later, Leutze's re-painted and second 'original' canvas arrived in New York City, where it was exhibited at the Stuyvesant Institute. The painting was described in the October 18, 1851 issue of Literary World as "the best painting yet executed of an American subject."   Using this original painting as the promotional work, Goupil took orders for copies.  For early subscribers before September 1, 1853, a black and white impression was $12.00. Then the price would rise to $15.00, and hand-colored impressions would be $20.00. Three years later Goupil's print was reissued in a smaller version, and the company also offered photographs and cabinet cards.  By the 1890s, Goupil's successors were offering new versions of the image including miniature photogravure*.  Meanwhile Marshall O. Robert, a New York transportation magnate, purchased the painting, which ultimately was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art,* after it had circulated for many exhibition fundraisers including the Metropolitan Sanity Fair to raise money for Civil War veterans.

Because of the popularity of Washington Crossing the Delaware, Emanuel Leutze received much attention, although his name was generally forgotten by the American public in the sweep of Modernism* in the early 20th Century.

The last nine years of his life he traveled between New York and Washington D.C., and settled his wife and children from Germany in Washington D.C.  In 1861 he had submitted sketches for a painting with a westward settlement theme for the west wall by the west staircase of the House of Representatives.  Because of the popularity of Leutze's George Washington painting and its association with patriotism, many persons had advocated for Leutze to do work for the United States Capitol. The advocacy had begun in 1851 when a Senator Cooper, friend of supporters of Leutze, gave a speech in the Senate suggestion that Leutze be given the commission that he received ten years later.

The sketches he submitted were the preliminary designs for the mural, Westward the Course of Empire, which progressed under direction of Captain Montgomery Meigs, Superintendent of Capitol Extension.  However, an agreement with Leutze was not signed immediately because of the beginning of the Civil War, and feeling dismay, Meigs wrote on June 20, 1861, to the Secretary of War who had insisted on the delay: "For myself as superintendent of this great building it was with great regret that I saw the intended decoration of its stairway delayed and I would be gratified, all other expenditures upon the building having been stopped, to see in this time of rebellion one artist at least employed in illustrating our western conquest." (Fairman, 202)  A month later, the Secretary of War approved the mural painting, 20 X 30 feet for a sum of $20,000., and for a short time, the mural, completed within two years, was the only art activity at the nation's Capitol Building during the first years of the Civil War.

In applying the paint, he used a method called stereochromy*, a process he learned  in Germany whereby watercolor was applied directly to plaster without losing color strength.

For Leutze, the purpose of his mural was to instruct and convey inspiration and not to be just pleasing to the eye in a decorative sense.  However, this motive combined with his flair for dramatization left him open to much public criticism at a time when people were looking for diversion and to soothing genre and figure scenes such as those of Winslow Homer and Eastman Johnson. In a book published in 1869, Art Thoughts by James Jackson Jarves, Leutze's work at the Capitol was described as offering melodramatic "slop work. . . . A more vicious example in composition and coloring, with some cleverness of details, could not be presented to young painters.  Confusion reigns paramount, as if an earthquake had made chaos of his reckless design, hot, glaring coloring, and but ill comprehended theme."  (Fairman, 204)

Emanuel Leutze died in Washington DC on July 18, 1868.

Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art
DeCourcy E. McIntosh, "Fair and Square in the 1860s",  The Magazine Antiques, February 2006, pp. 68-73.
Charles Fairman, Art and Artists of the Capitol of the United States of America, 135 and 201-209
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, V:
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (May 24, 1816, Schwäbisch Gmünd – July 18, 1868) was a German American history painter best-known for his painting Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Leutze was born in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Württemberg (Germany), and was brought to America as a child. His parents settled first in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, then at Fredericksburg, Va.  His early education was good, though not especially in the direction of art. The first development of his artistic talent occurred while he was attending the sickbed of his father, when he attempted drawing to occupy the long hours of waiting.  His father died in 1831.[2]  At 14, he was painting portraits for $5 apiece. Through such work, he supported himself after the death of his father. In 1834, he received his first instruction in art in classes of John Rubens Smith, a portrait painter in Philadelphia. He soon became skilled, and promoted a plan for publishing, in Washington, portraits of eminent American statesmen; however, he met with but slight encouragement.

In 1840, one of his paintings attracted attention and procured him several orders, which enabled him to go to Düsseldorf, where he studied with Lessing.  In 1842, he went to Munich, studying the works of Cornelius and Kaulbach, and, while there, finished his Columbus before the Queen. The following year he visited Venice and Rome, making studies from Titian and Michaelangelo. His first work, Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca, was purchased by members of the Düsseldorf Art Union.  A companion picture, Columbus in Chains, procured him the gold medal of the Brussels Art Exhibition, and was subsequently purchased by the Art Union in New York.  In 1845, after a tour in Italy, he returned to Düsseldorf, marrying Juliane Lottner and making his home there for 14 years.

During his years in Düsseldorf, he was a resource for visiting Americans: he found them places to live and work, provided introductions, and emotional and even financial support. For many years, he was the president of the Düsseldorf Artists' Association; in 1848, he was an early promoter of the “Malkasten” art association; and in 1857, he led the call for a gathering of artists, which led to the founding of the Allgemeine Deutsche Kunstgenossenschaft.

A strong supporter of Europe's Revolutions of 1848, Leutze decided to paint an image that would encourage Europe's liberal reformers with the example of the American Revolution.  Using American tourists and art students as models and assistants, Leutze finished Washington Crossing the Delaware in 1850.  It is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 1854, Leutze finished his depiction of the Battle of Monmouth, Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth, commissioned by an important Leutze patron, banker David Leavitt of New York City and Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

In 1859, Leutze returned to the United States and opened a studio in New York City. He divided his time between New York City and Washington, D.C. In 1859, he painted a portrait of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, which hangs in the Harvard Law School. In a 1992 opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia described the portrait of Taney, made two years after Taney's infamous decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford, as showing Taney "in black, sitting in a shadowed red armchair, left hand resting upon a pad of paper in his lap, right hand hanging limply, almost lifelessly, beside the inner arm of the chair.  He sits facing the viewer and staring straight out. There seems to be on his face, and in his deep-set eyes, an expression of profound sadness and disillusionment."

Leutze also executed other portraits, including one of fellow painter William Morris Hunt. That portrait was owned by Hunt's brother Leavitt Hunt, a New York attorney and sometime Vermont resident, and was shown at an exhibition devoted to William Morris Hunt's work at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1878.

In 1860 Leutze was commissioned by the U.S. Congress to decorate a stairway in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC, for which he painted a large composition, Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way, which is also commonly known as Westward Ho!.

Late in life, he became a member of the National Academy of Design. He was also a member of the Union League Club of New York, which has a number of his paintings. 

He died in Washington, D.C., in his 53rd year, of heatstroke. At the time of his death, a painting, The Emancipation of the Slaves, was in preparation.

Leutze's portraits are known less for their artistic quality than for their patriotic emotionalism. Washington Crossing the Delaware firmly ranks among the American national iconography, and is thus often caricatured.


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