’s celebrated oil painting depicts a steel-gazed George Washington and his crew forging the icy waters of the Delaware River in an early-morning ambush during the Battle of Trenton. Visitors to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art can still find the scene depicted in a monumental 21-foot canvas, which occupies an entire wall of the institution’s American Wing. But that version, however, is not Leutze’s first depiction of the scene
A German immigrant who spent his childhood in the United States, Leutze had returned to his homeland by the time he began working on the first of three versions of Washington Crossing the Delaware. The original painting barely survived a year. In 1850 a fire swept the artist’s studio and as the canvas was cut from its frame in order to rescue it, causing several tears.
Fortunately, it was restored that year and acquired in 1863 by the Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany. The work remained in Bremen until World War II. On September 5, 1942, collateral damage from an Allied airstrike on Bremen destroyed the work. Leutze’s painting depicted war in the light of heroic glory, but was ultimately destroyed by war’s cold indifference.