‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ up for auction at Christie’s in May

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The famous “Washington Crossing the Delaware” painting, which hung in the White House from the 1970s to 2014, is coming up for auction next month, when it is estimated to fetch about $20 million.

The 1851 oil painting is one of three versions painted by Emanuel Leutze of the man who was to be the first U.S. president leading troops during a key moment of the American revolution. Only two survive.

The first version was destroyed during a World War Two air raid in Germany, said American Art specialist Paige Kestenman at Christie’s New York.

“The second is the monumental work that is the centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing, and the third is this work right here,” said Kestenman.

The version at New York’s Met measures 12.4 ft x 21.25 ft (3.78 m x 6.48 m). The painting up for sale on May 12 is smaller – about 3 ft (0.9 m) by 6 ft (1.83 m). It had hung for decades in the White House, mainly in the West Wing reception room.

The work depicts George Washington leading soldiers across the Delaware River to surprise the infantry hiding on the other side on Christmas Night, 1776, Kestenman said.

“A German-born American immigrant, Leutze was also a staunch abolitionist and in ‘Washington crossing the Delaware’ he deliberately included a variety of the figures that make up the melting pot that formed the American nation,” said Kestenman.

She pointed out a Black soldier, another soldier wearing a Scottish bonnet, and moccasins and buckskin clothing suggesting the American West and Native Americans.