Friday, February 19, 2010

Unsullied in Boston

Good stuff in today's Boston Globe:  The Museum of Fine Arts has installed its first painting in the new American Wing (scheduled to open in November).

The article presents a few of the conservation efforts undertaken in order to unwrap and ready Thomas Sully's The Passage of the Delaware for its new place of honor in the new American Wing.  The brief video below shows the large-scale efforts to get it in place.

It's an interesting exercise to compare and contrast two artists' interpretation of the same scene in history, as well as the history of the two paintings themselves. 

Thomas Sully's "The Passage of the Delaware" 1819

Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware" 1851

Leutze's painting (Metropolitan Museum of Art) has become an iconic image of Washington whereas Sully's was never given a proper viewing venue.

Until now.


C. August said...

I'll definitely be interested to see it, and this is the first I've heard of the American Wing. I hope they don't screw it up.

Comparing these two paintings, it's immediately obvious to me why Leutze's is the more famous. It's just more heroic, dramatic, romantic, and amazing. Sully's is nice, but it depicts Washington as observer, commander from a distance, up on the hill, watching his men toil below. Leutze's shows Washington -- whether or not this is historically true -- as an active hero, leading his men across the treacherous river to glory. It encapsulates the entire episode, stripping it down to the most fundamental story, and is so good that it has basically become history. Whatever the actuality, this is how people think of it. (Added to that is the little treat Scott Powell has hypothesized: that it's Monroe standing behind Washington.)

What do you think of the Sully? Am I being to harsh? I don't think it stacks up, but I'm certainly willing to listen to other views.

Lynne said...

I know - the news about the new wing is pretty exciting!

The first thing I noticed, and only because I knew Leutze's painting, was the lack of the flag. I doubt it was carried like a standard during the crossing, but I miss it in Sully's painting as it seems to herald Washington's glory.

The other thing is that I don't much recognize the environment. The weird dead tree in the middle bothers me compositionally speaking. I do like that all the other people lack detail - Washington sort of glows. I don't think he's any less active than the GW on the boat, but I agree, a little less intense looking. The lighting is certainly more dramatic in the Leutze painting.

He cuts a fine figure in both cases.

It'll be great to be able to see it in person. I may get a chance to see Leutze's this weekend.