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Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868)
Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868)

Departure of Columbus from Palos in 1492

Details
Emanuel Leutze (1816-1868)
Departure of Columbus from Palos in 1492
signed and dated 'E Leutze/1855.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
48 x 72¼ in. (121.9 x 183.52 cm.)
Provenance
Charles Gould.
Estate of the above.
Sale: American Art Associates, 22 October 1932, no. 98.
Sale: Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 8 June 1939, lot 128.
Private collection, New York.
Acquired by the present owner, 1988.
Literature
Art Journal, London, July 1, 1855, p. 217.
Klönische Zeitung, August 29, 1855, n.p.
New York Evening Post, November 17, 1855, n.p.
Beiblatt zur Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, vol. 3, no. 22, August 28, 1868, p. 188.
M. Blanckarts, Düsseldorf Künstler; Nekrologie aus den letzten zehn Jahren, Stuttgart, Germany, 1877, p. 25.
N. Ponce de León, The Columbus Gallery: The 'Discoverer of the New World' as represented in Portraits, Monuments, Statues, Medals and Paintings, New York, 1893, p. 147, no. 42.
F. von Boetticher, Malerwerke des neunzehten Jahrhunderts, Leipzig, Germany, 1948, n.p.
B.S. Groseclose, Emanuel Leutze, 1816-1868: Freedom Is the Only King, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1975, p. 87, no. 69.
W.E. Truettner, ed., The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1991, pp. 54, 75-76, illustrated.
Exhibited
London, 168 New Bond Street, and elsewhere, Exhibition of Modern German Pictures, July 1855, no. 94.
Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, March 15-July 7, 1991, no. 2.

Lot Essay

Departure of Columbus from Palos in 1492 is a large scale masterwork in which Emanuel Leutze combines his artistic prowess and mastery of narrative to create a richly symbolic scene of great historical importance. Painted in 1855, four years after his celebrated, Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), the present work depicts another pivotal moment in American history in a similarly heroic fashion. Here the artist portrays Columbus' departure on his fateful voyage of 1492, which would forever change the history of the "New World."

Born in Germany in 1816, Leutze immigrated to Philadelphia with his family in 1825. He studied with John Rubens Smith in 1834 and spent several years as an itinerant portrait painter before returning to Philadelphia in 1839. He departed for Europe a year later as, according to Barbara S. Groseclose, "His aspirations were recognized by generous patrons who encouraged him to fulfill his talents by studying abroad." (Emanuel Leutze, 1816-1868: Freedom Is the Only King, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1975, p. 16) Following travels through The Netherlands to see celebrated Old Master paintings, Leutze moved to Düsseldorf, Germany where he enrolled in the acclaimed Düsseldorf Academy.

Leutze painted his most important works including Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and Departure of Columbus from Palos in 1492 while he was in Düsseldorf. Although German by birth, Leutze formed a close relationship with his adopted country during the time he was there and his sense of American patriotism accompanied him throughout his life. Of Leutze's close attachment to America, Joshua C. Taylor writes, "He always considered himself an American, although born in Germany, yet he was as prominent in the art life of Düsseldorf as any native painter...In a sense he has two nationalities. He had, however, just one artistic goal and that, he felt, could best be realized in the United States. His art, as he saw it, was a public art, and it was finally to the American public that he wished his art to speak." (Emanuel Leutze, 1816-1868: Freedom Is the Only King, p. 11)

In the present work, Leutze celebrates the first chapter in American history, the discovery of the "New World." Columbus stands heroically on the bow of his ship, the Santa Maria, pointing both gallantly and portentously toward his destination. The scene is extremely complex, filled with various different vignettes relating to the final preparation for the departure and the despair of those bidding the captain and his crew adieu. William H. Truettner writes, "Leutze has included vignettes registering a range of emotions, in particular those of the young men in the small boat on the right who seem ready to capitalize on the anticipated loneliness of the beautiful young woman seated before them. This touch of Düsseldorf narrative, which gives a familiar domestic air to the scene, is played off against the grave and prophetic gesture of Columbus, who assumes the role of martyr, prepared to sacrifice himself of the open sea." (The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 76)

Leutze aggrandizes and romanticizes Columbus, elevating the scene through his extensive use of symbolism. The rising sun casts a divine light on the clear horizon, alluding to the promise and prosperity of the New World. Truettner remarks that "the painting is saturated with religious symbolism. Columbus assumes the role of a minor divinity, the most legendary figure in New World iconography." (The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820-1920, p. 77) Indeed, there are passages in the work that are evocative of the Old Masters such as the men straining to raise the sail and load the supplies, which are reminiscent of the laboring bodies of Peter Paul Rubens' Raising of the Cross (1610, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, The Netherlands).

The message inherent in Departure of Columbus from Palos in 1492, of divinely ordained exploration and conquest, would have appealed to Americans as the country was in the throes of Manifest Destiny. This is supported by the provenance of the painting, which was in the collection of New York railroad investor, Charles W. Gould, who also commissioned Asher B. Durand's masterwork Progress (1853, location unknown), until his death. Indeed, the rich detail and symbolism of the heroic Departure of Columbus from Palos in 1492 imbues it with a lasting appeal that is characteristic of Leutze's greatest works.

We wish to thank Graham Boettcher for his assistance with cataloguing this lot.

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