On view in the American Wing Gallery 767 through spring 2023 is a special display, Crossings, that explores ongoing resonances between past and present artistic expressions—specifically, modern and contemporary responses to Emanuel Leutze’s epic Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851). Evoking patriotic feelings in some viewers, conflict and struggle in others, this commanding icon—an unavoidable highlight of The Met’s American Wing—continues to spark debates about political ideas.
In the more than century and a half since Leutze painted the canvas, several artists—especially those of color—have responded to the contrived subject, from Black Americans Jacob Lawrence, Robert Colescott, and Kara Walker to Indigenous (Cree) Kent Monkman. Each of their works confronts the biases of American history and mythmaking, while revealing the critical role art plays in shaping popular narratives.
Colescott’s subversive take, painted in anticipation of the nation’s bicentennial, places the trailblazing scientist, inventor, and African American hero George Washington Carver at the helm of a boatload of Black stereotypes. The satire challenges viewers to accept the insidiousness of racism in popular culture as well as the urgency of truthful histories. Indebted to Colescott’s example, Walker’s The Crossing (2017) interrogates U.S. power and patriotism in ways ever more relevant since the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The diptych responds to two paintings at The Met that address the realities of a precarious ship of state, the Leutze and Winslow Homer’s The Gulf Stream (1899, reworked by 1906).
This intervention is the second part of a contemporary coda to The Met’s recent exhibition Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents, now on view in reduced form at London’s National Gallery. While many of our Homers are on loan, others may be found in American Wing galleries 762 and 769.
Marquee: Robert Colescott (American, 1925–2009). George Washington Carver Crossing the Delaware: Page from an American History Textbook, 1975. Acrylic on canvas. Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles, 2021.45.1