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New York Artist Updates Washington's Historic Crossing

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A new version of one of the most famous American paintings depicting George Washington's crossing of the Delaware was unveiled Monday at the New York Historical Society. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Emanuel Leutze's 1851 depiction of George Washington crossing the Delaware River is one of the most iconic American paintings. And of all the treasures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it's the piece the most visitors ask to see.


But when it comes to historical accuracy, the dramatic depiction falls short.

So artist Mort Kunstler tried to paint a more realistic version of what happened on December 25, 1776, on the eve of the Battle of Trenton. It was unveiled Monday night at the New York Historical Society.

"I'm trying to do both. Do an heroic picture that is also accurate," Kunstler said.

The idea and commission came from former candidate for governor Thomas Suozzi.

"I was really very negative about it. I was really thinking that it is an iconic image, why paint it again?" Kunstler said.

"After a little bit of prodding by me, over a series of months and then some research, he came up with this brilliant concept which really is not only beautiful but also historically accurate," Suozzi said.

As for the differences, the original painting shows the Betsy Ross flag flying: A flag that did not exist at the time. The original painting also depicts the action taking place in the middle of the daytime, though the actual crossing took place in the middle of the night amid snow and sleet.

"I think anyone standing in a 15-foot row boat, would have to have his head examined, especially in an ice-filled river," Kunstler said.

Based on historical research, the new painting shows Washington and company in a flat-bottomed ferry boat. Even the ice is more accurate: The Delaware freezes in big sheets, rather than craggy peaks.

Another major difference between the two paintings is size. The Met's painting is more than 12 feet tall and 21 feet wide. The figures are life-size except George Washington. Like the painting he looms larger than life.

A spokesperson for the Met praised the new work, saying viewers of art and students of American history would benefit from the comparison.

"It's nice that these pictures can live side-by-side.

To see the new painting, go to the New York Historical Society this week. For the original, head to the Met after January 16. That's when the iconic original will be back on view in a new frame after four years of restoration.

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