08 January 2015

Colonial Time Capsule Opened - Amazing


ropelight said...

It's an interesting video clip in its own right, but when CBS Correspondent Vinita Nair described the opening of the sealed box as taking place under a picture of Washing Crossing the Delaware it caught my attention.

Now we're all familiar with Emanuel Leutze's very famous, if overly allegorical, painting by that name and the one in the video obviously just ain't it. Sure, it's a stunningly beautiful painting but one completely unknown to me, so I looked it up.

Turns out it's Thomas Sully's The Passage of the Delaware originally commissioned for the North Carolina Senate Chamber and begun in 1891. However the usually meticulous Sully failed to appreciate the Chamber's physical limitations and his 17' by 12' painting turned out to be way too big, the Chamber's ceiling wasn't tall enough.

(Following is from Patrick J Walsh's Wall Street Journal article of 3/19/2011)

North Carolina rejected the picture, so Sully kept it, showed it, and finally sold it in 1833 to a wealthy Boston frame maker, John Dogett. It remained in storage rolled up in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts from 1903 till November 2010 when it was exhibited and soon recognized as an overlooked masterwork.

It, and Leutze's more familiar (and more criticized) work both depict an iconic moment in American history. Washington had suffered a series of disastrous defeats in New York (he wrote his cousin, "I think the game is pretty near up."), as his badly beaten rag-tag troops fled South there was serious consideration given to replacing Washington as Commander of the Continental Army. Congress had also been forced to flee from Philadelphia to the relative safety of Baltimore, and Thomas Paine had observed These are the times that try men's souls.

After crossing the Delaware River Washington's stunning victory at Trenton changed all that and can be rightly said to have been the turning point in the American Revolution. Sully's painting most accurately captures the majesty of that moment, and November 2010 is a most propitious moment for it to reappear.

ropelight said...

Correction: Sully began painting the Passage in 1819, not 1891.

(More from Walsh's article)

Criticism of the more famous Leutze painting centers around 2 major inaccuracies: the flag he portrayed wasn't adopted till 1777 - the year after the crossing - and although Washington is depicted standing heroically among his soldiers in a small row boat, he actually crossed in a large freight boat which transported the horses and cannon. Troops crossed the river that cold night in sturdy Durham boats built to haul pig iron from the Durham Iron Works down river to Philadelphia.