Oertel’s painting portrays a dramatic event from the American Revolution. After listening to a public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776, Continental soldiers joined with patriotic New Yorkers in Bowling Green to tear down an equestrian statue of King George III and the tyranny it represented.
Fragments of the statue were transported to Litchfield, Connecticut and made into bullets for the Revolutionary troops. It is believed that Connecticut Loyalists stole some of the fragments and hid them in and around their homes, for pieces of the statue and its stone base been found buried in the area. Several of them are in the Society’s collection.
While Oertel’s painting appears to celebrate the American Revolution, it references those left behind in the fight for political liberty: the family of Native Americans pushed to the margins of the picture and the prone African American man lying directly in the path of the statue’s fall.
Oertel painted this event 83 years after the fact, perhaps as a precedent for the popular uprisings then sweeping across his native Germany.