On the night of December 25, 1776, George Washington led his ragged Continental Army through a snowstorm across the Delaware River, on the way to a surprise attack in New Jersey that would turn the tide of the American Revolution. More than 40 years later, the ambitious young painter Thomas Sully (1783-1872) chose this dramatic moment as the subject of a portrait of the founding father commissioned for the North Carolina State House. In it, a dramatically lit Washington urges on the troops from the back of a magnificent white steed, surrounded by fellow generals and aides, while his troops contend with the wintry river crossing below, as dawn breaks on the horizon. This compact introduction to the painting reveals how Sully’s imagination, technique, and ambition came together to embody the drama of the Revolution and the character of its leaders.
Each volume in the MFA Spotlight series illuminates a significant work in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, offering a brief and engaging introduction to its creation and history.
About the Author
Elliot Bostwick Davis is John Moors Cabot Chair, Art of the Americas, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.