“Are we going to reenact it?” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on her way to Emanuel Leutze’s gigantic painting of “Washington Crossing the Delaware.”
She would have needed an army: the painting depicts Washington on Christmas night, 1776, on his way to a surprise attack on the British.
Instead she posed for pictures in front of the painting at a black-tie party the museum held Thursday night to celebrate the 26 newly renovated rooms of the American Wing.
“How can anyone walk through these galleries and not see that America has the talent, ingenuity, grace and grit to come through icy waters?” Clinton said in a speech at dinner in the Temple of Dendur.
Clinton then sat down to short ribs, roasted beets and leek-and-Gruyere bread pudding. At her table: the director of the museum, Thomas Campbell; the president of the museum, Emily Rafferty; Mercedes Bass; Oscar and Annette de la Renta; and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
The occasion also gathered Lulu Wang, John Paulson, Blair Effron, Richard Chilton and David Koch.
“It’s breathtaking,” the industrialist Koch said in front of a William Merritt Chase. “It makes you appreciate the quality of American art.”
Effron of Centerview Partners LLP didn’t miss a beat when asked to name his favorite painting in the wing: “A Gorge in the Mountains (Kauterskill Clove)” by Sanford Robinson Gifford. “It has a golden luminescence to it that is otherworldly,” he said.
“I have a lot of favorite paintings, but if I had to name one, it would be ‘Madame X,’” said Chilton, of Chilton Investment Co. Why? “Because Sargent painted at such an incredible scale and it was naughty.”
Paulson, president and co-fund manager of Paulson & Co., had some inside dope about the Leutze painting of Washington.
“It has a new frame,” Paulson said. “It’s a replica of the original, made in Queens.” (The framer Eli Wilner oversaw the project, which 15 people worked on for two years.)
The replica was made from an 1864 photograph found at the New-York Historical Society, according to a just-published essay on the painting by associate director Carrie Rebora Barratt.
The painting thrilled Americans when it debuted in 1851 in New York. Many hung engravings or their own embroidered versions in their homes, prompting Mark Twain to call it a “work of art which would have made Washington hesitate about crossing, if he could have foreseen what advantage was going to be taken of it.”
Its first owner was Marshall O. Roberts, who sold boats to the federal government during the Civil War. He paid $10,000 for it in 1851. Scottish-born financier John Stewart Kennedy bought the painting for the Met at auction, for $16,100, in 1897. Loaned for long periods of time in the last century, its place at the Met seems assured. It is an obvious focal point of the new installation, which opens to the public Jan 16.
(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)