Leutze’s masterpiece entered the Met’s collection in 1897, and it currently hangs prominently in the museum’s American Wing, where hundreds of thousands—if not millions
—of visitors lay eyes on it every year. This past December, the museum also became home to a contemporary send-up of the Leutze painting: ’s Resurgence of the People
(2019). Significantly, the Met’s curators placed the new version even more prominently than the original—in the museum’s lofty entryway, the Great Hall.
Monkman’s sprawling painting, which spans 11 by 22 feet, riffs powerfully—corrosively, even—on Washington Crossing the Delaware. It is one of a pair of works on view by Monkman, a Canadian artist of mixed Cree and Irish heritage, that reinterprets the Euro-American tradition of history painting by inserting indigenous people and refugees in the place of conventional white male heroes. In doing so, Monkman questions “history painting as an authoritative language, which people tend to consume uncritically,” explained Randall Griffey, a curator in the Met’s modern and contemporary department who helped organize the commission. “And he sees opportunities there to intervene and insert other narratives.”
Monkman’s composition revolves delightfully around an indigenous, gender-fluid mythological hero of his own creation: Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. In Resurgence of the People
, she takes Washington’s place as the fearless leader of a diverse group of refugees heading for American shores. “Looking at the Emmanuel Leutze painting…[Washington] is the hero of that painting, and I wanted Miss Chief to be the hero of my two paintings,” Monkman explained in a video
produced by the Met, in which he confronts Leutze’s original painting in person—and in full, fabulous drag as Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. “I wanted to make a monumental painting that really reflected on indigenous perspective to give it that same importance,” he continued.