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Happy to Be Here: A patriot “hooked” on Washington


In 1970 Ann Hawkes Hutton convened a press luncheon at the Washington Crossing Inn to announce that the original Emanuel Leutze painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” would be removed from the nearby park visitor center – and I was there.

The painting was to be returned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it would be the centerpiece of the museum’s planned American Wing. But Hutton commissioned a replica to replace the original.

She was the person most responsible for the iconic painting’s coming to Bucks County.

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Grundy of Bristol, leader of the powerful Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, appointed Hutton, also from Bristol and well-connected in state politics, to the Washington Crossing Commission in 1939.

Created in Germany around 1850, the painting was exhibited in America first at the Stuvesant Institute in New York. More than 50,000 people viewed it before the exhibition closed on Feb. 28, 1852. Marshall O. Roberts, purchased it and installed it in his home gallery, where it stayed until it was sold at auction to Scottish-born financier John S. Kennedy, who donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1897.

In the Met’s publication “Washington Crossing the Delaware: Restoring an American Masterpiece,” Mark Thistlewaite, an expert on images of Washington, Leutze’s masterpiece “offers a prime example of the widening split between highbrow and lowbrow culture as New Yorkers became more sophisticated in matters of culture and art.”

When it was first hung, the canvas – 12 feet high and 21 feet wide – covered the entire end wall of the gallery of American pictures in the Morgan Wing.

It remained there until 1929, then went into storage as gallery changes were made, but it was back by 1932. The public had been clamoring for it – despite art critics’ disapproval. It remained on view in the museum’s main hall until the spring of 1946. When curators took the painting down without consulting Museum Director Francis Henry Taylor, he insisted that the picture must be back on view by Washington’s Birthday, the following year.

“I am not concerned with what the Department thinks of the painting aesthetically,” Taylor said. “I am, however, deeply concerned with public reaction to a painting which has become through the years a symbol of American life. It is one of the important historical documents of which the Museum has possession and custody. The very fact that it has attracted so much attention in the press is ample evidence of the very genuine fondness of many thousands of Americans for this picture.”

But after a few years, the museum was making changes to its American Wing and there was no longer a space for the Leutze painting. The board considered lending it to several institutions, including West Point, the New York State Education Building and Pratt Institute.

Three years after insisting the painting remain on display at the Met, it went on loan to the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the “Second Crossing of the Delaware,” as Taylor called it. More than 100,000 visitors saw the painting over two weeks at the Dallas State Fair. The painting might have stayed in Dallas but for the request of the Washington Crossing Park Commission for the Metropolitan to move it near the place where Washington actually crossed the Delaware.

With help from the Washington Crossing Commission and Joe Grundy, Hutton was able to convince the Met to send the painting to Bucks County, on loan for two years. Hutton and Metropolitan Museum Conservator Murray Pease met the train carrying “Washington Crossing the Delaware” in Trenton, N.J., on a snow-covered, slippery, day in February 1952

It was to be installed temporarily on a wall of the United Methodist Church at Washington Crossing.

The New York Herald Tribune reported on Feb. 18, “the installation required the removal of the church doors, the removal of half the pews, and two days of stretching the 800-pound canvas on butcher paper spread on the floor before park workmen could raise it into place.”

The painting was “coming home,” Hutton announced, and she said her goal was to keep the painting at Washington Crossing permanently. Seven years after Leutze’s painting arrived, the state completed a visitor center to house it, with an auditorium where “Washington Crossing the Delaware” dominated the stage.

This was where it belonged after all, Hutton felt, near the actual site of the Continental Army’s river crossing that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War at Christmas 1776. Joe Grundy and James Rorimer, then head of the Metropolitan, negotiated a “gentleman’s agreement” to keep the painting along the Delaware where the historic crossing occurred but the agreement didn’t hold for Thomas Hoving, Rorimer’s successor at the Met, who wanted the painting back.

At one point Pease informed Rorimer that he was convinced that Mrs. Hutton was “capable of blowing up quite a storm” should the Metropolitan stand firm on its decision to retain ownership. After much coaxing and a few loan extensions the painting was back in New York. It had been in Bucks County for 18 years, so long that few could remember that the Met owned it.

In a 1996 article by Brent Glass in Pennsylvania Heritage magazine, Hutton confessed she was “hooked” on George Washington. “My father, Thomas G. Hawkes, told me Washington stories at bedtime, every night of my early life ... the story of George Washington and the cherry tree was what I lived by ... thought it was a sin to tell a lie.”

Washington’s life became Hutton’s life’s work. In 1964, she founded the Washington Crossing Foundation, which provides scholarships to students who pursue government service. Shadyside, Hutton’s former home, on Radcliffe Street in Bristol, is the foundation’s headquarters.

And the Metropolitan Museum created a spacious, well-lighted, place of honor for “Washington Crossing the Delaware” painstakingly restored and majestically framed – in the American Wing that opened in 1980.

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