Transcript: Curator Elliot Bostwick Davis Describes Thomas Sully's "Washington Crossing the Delaware"

ELLIOT BOSTWICK DAVIS: This picture was one that we really designed much of level 1 around, it was so important to us. It had really not been on view consistently, and it had never been on view with its original frame before, because we really didn’t have the space.

It’s virtually a life size portrait. But it’s something new. Sully here was quite innovative and showed a great deal of inspiration in creating what he called an ‘historical portrait.’

And in this painting Sully has been very accurate about the raggle-taggle nature of the troops at this point. They’re certainly underfed; they were many of them without proper uniforms and...he’s combining the elements of the real life observed, what he knew from eyewitness accounts, with a beautiful landscape. And when artists saw this...they remarked on how sublime the landscape was. So he’s setting off Washington amidst this great frenzy of activity.

Their brigade was in charge of many of these flatboats that you see in the painting; where the horses are rearing, and the troops are really jammed in. It was an ordeal, without a doubt.

You really can imagine what it was like for these 4,000 troops to take on what was then the most formidable force in the world: the British Army.