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Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze was born in May 1816, in the city of Schwabisch Gmund, Germany. He moved along with his family to the United States when he was a child. First, they settled in the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia, before going to Philadelphia.
It is said that he began his artistic development during his father’s sickbed when he would occupy his time drawing while waiting long hours. His father died when Leutze was about 15 years old. One year prior, he was already executing and selling portraits for 5 dollars each. Said pictures supported the young artist following his father’s death.
His first formal art instruction came in 1834, around his 18 years of age when he attended the art classes of portrait painter John Rubens Smith. Leutze’s craftsmanship developed quickly, and he soon would plan to publish portraits of American politicians in Washington. However, he was met with little to no encouragement.
By 1840, some of his paintings attracted quite an attention, which would grant him several orders; this enabled the 24-year-old artist to enroll at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, which is the Arts Academy of the city of Dusseldorf, highly distinguished. At the Academy, Leutze studied under Director Friederich Schadow. However, he left one year later, due to his rather anti-academic attitude.
In 1842, Leutze went to Munich, where he studied, especially the artworks of Peter von Cornelius, as well as complete his painting Columbus before the Queen, which is one of his most known and celebrated pictures. In the following year, the artist visited Rome and Venice to study the old Masters, such as Michelangelo and Titian.
Leutze was an avid supporter of several liberal Revolutions exploding throughout Europe during 1848, also known as the Spring of Nations, following and inspired by the French Revolution. In 1850, aiming to create an inspiring image to encourage the European liberal reformers using the American Revolution as an example, Leutze created the first version of his famous Washington Crossing the Delaware, the artist used several American art students and tourist as models and assistants.
Leutze would return to the United States in 1859, when he opened a studio in New York City, dividing his time between the former and Washington D.C. In the U.S., the artist executed portraits of several distinguished American personalities, such as Roger Brooke Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the artist William Morris Hunt. He was also commissioned to decorate the stairway of the Capitol Building in Washington, showing that he was quite respected at this time.
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze died in July 1868, in his 52 years of age.