CHAPTER XXX. EMMANUEL LEUTZE.
EMMANUEL LEUTZE, by adoption an American, was born in the village of Emingen, near the city of Reutlingen, in Wurtemberg, on the 24th of May, 1816. His father emigrated to America during the infancy of his son, and the future artist spent his youth in the city of Philadelphia and the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. He received a good common school education, and passed his time in comparative seclusion from society, reading and studying, but showing no especial fondness for art. At length, during his father's last illness, in which he nursed him with great devotion, he took up drawing to beguile the weary hours of the sick-room, and succeeded so well in his attempts that after his father's death he continued his efforts under the instruction of a competent drawing master. He improved rapidly, and was so well satisfied with his success that he determined to adopt the profession of an artist as the one best suited to his talents and inclination.
FILIAL DEVOTION SHAPES A GREAT CAREER.
Having acquired considerable skill in drawing, he attempted rude portraits of men and beasts, and at length undertook to copy from memory a colored print after Westall. He completed it, and resolved to show it to some of his friends. In his impatience for the colors to dry, he placed the painting before the fire and went to summon his friends, but found, to his dismay, upon returning with them, that the heat had blistered the canvas so that the picture was hardly recognizable. Yet, in spite of this, his critics saw such evidences of genius in the painting that they urged the young artist to continue his labors, and predicted a great success for him.
Leutze, however, was not willing to venture upon another composition, either partly or wholly original, but applied himself with zeal to learn the rudiments of his art, and with such success that when his portraits appeared at the Artist's Fund Exhibition, a year or two later, they received high praise, both from critics and the public. An enterprising publisher, attracted by these portraits, engaged him to go to Washington and paint the portraits of the leading statesmen of the country, to be engraved for a "national work." Leutze at once proceeded to the capital, full of hope and enthusiasm, but soon found that the schemes of the politicians whose faces he was to transmit to canvas engrossed them so much that they would not give him the sittings he desired. After waiting impatiently for a considerable time he threw up the engagement in disgust, and went into the woods of Virginia to console himself by communing with nature. For some time he wandered about, making desultory sketches, and abandoning himself to a melancholy which was closely akin to despair. When this feeling was at its height, a friend, before unknown, came to his aid.
"A gentleman, whose rich domain he chanced to approach in his wayward rovings, perceived his abilities, understood his unhappiness, and aroused him from inaction by a call upon his professional skill. The artist obeyed, but he could not subdue the mood which possessed him. No brilliant scene arose to his fancy, no humorous incident took form and color from his pencil, and the fair landscape around appeared to mock rather than cheer his destiny. He could not bring himself into relation with subjects thus breathing of hope and gayety, but found inspiration only in the records of human sorrow. As the royal mourner bade her companions sit upon the ground and 'tell sad stories of the death of kings,' the pensive artist found something analogous to his own fate in the story of Hagar and Ishmael. He painted them as having followed up a spent water-course, in hopes of finding wherewith to quench their thirst, and sinking under the disappointment. He neither saw nor painted the angel of God who showed the fountain in the wilderness, and yet the angel was there, for now the sufferer acknowledges that early vicissitudes nerved him for high endeavor, rendered his vision piercing, his patience strong, and his confidence firm, and that this incidental effort to triumph over difficulties was the first of a series which inspired his subsequent career."
In 1840 he produced a painting which he called "An Indian Contemplating the Setting Sun." It was exhibited in Philadelphia, and won general praise for the artist. Better than this, it secured him the friendship of the late Edward L. Carey, of that city, who, recognizing his genius, determined to help him on in his labors. Mr. Carey was successful in inducing his friends to give Leutze a number of commissions, and these enabled him to carry out his wish to visit Europe and complete his studies. Instead of going to Italy, as was then the almost universal practice, he determined to study in Germany, and accordingly sailed for that country. He went by way of Holland, and after a long and trying voyage reached Amsterdam in January, 1841. Pausing here for awhile to familiarize himself with the master-pieces of the Dutch school, he repaired to Dusseldorf, where he became a pupil of the celebrated painter Lessing, under whom he made marked progress. His reception by the artists of Dusseldorf was at once hearty and encouraging, and won for that school and its members his enthusiastic devotion. He became Lessing's pupil at the personal request of the master, and these two gifted men were soon bound to each other by the ties of an undying friendship.
Leutze devoted himself to historical subjects from the first, and soon after his arrival in Dusseldorf began his picture of "Columbus Before the Council of Salamanca." When it was finished, it was visited by Director V. Schadow, who praised it warmly, and requested the artist to offer it to the Art Union of Dusseldorf, which at once purchased it. This high compliment to a beginner and a stranger proved an additional stimulus to Leutze, and he soon after produced a companion picture to his first, "Columbus in Chains," which procured him the gold medal of the Brussels Art Exhibition, and was subsequently purchased by the Art Union of New York.
Remaining two years in Dusseldorf, Leutze went to Munich to study the works of Cornelius and Kaulbach, and while there painted another scene in the life of the Great Discoverer, "Columbus before the Queen." Upon completing this picture he went to Venice, Rome, and the other Italian cities, making careful studies of the masters of that school. He gave two years to his travels, visiting the Tyrol, and reveling in the magnificent scenery through which he journeyed. He went into Switzerland, sketching the glorious beauties of its Alps, and reached the Rhine at Strasbourg. Then, sailing down that beautiful river, he set foot once more in Dusseldorf, glad, as he declared, to end his wanderings in the midst of his friends. Here he determined to locate himself permanently, and soon after his return he married.
He lived in Dusseldorf for fourteen years, devoting himself assiduously to his art. His labors were incessant. Historic subjects make up the vast bulk of his productions during this period, and in his treatment of them he adhered closely to the style of the Dusseldorf school. The best known of his works during this portion of his career are "The Landing of the Norsemen in America;" "Cromwell and his Daughter;" "The Court of Queen Elizabeth;" "Henry VIII. and Anne Boleyn;" "The Iconoclast," and his famous and brilliant series of pictures illustrative of the events of the American War of Independence. The most prominent of these were, "Washington Crossing the Delaware;" "Washington at Monmouth;" "Washington at the Battle of Monongahela;" "News from Lexington;" "Sergeant Jasper," and "Washington at Princeton." These are fine paintings, possessing striking characteristics, and are all more or less popular. "Washington Crossing the Delaware" is perhaps the best known, since it has been engraved, and sold in all parts of the country in that form.
During his absence in Germany, Leutze did not forget the country of his choice, as his devotion to American subjects amply testifies. When he had won a proud name in his art by his labors in Dusseldorf, and had laid by money enough to justify him in returning to a land where art was in its infancy, and not over-remunerative, he came back to the United States, after an absence of eighteen years, and opened a studio in New York. He found a vast improvement in the public taste and in the demand for works of art since his departure for the Old World, and, better still, found that his peculiar field, the historic, was the one most suited to the tastes of the American public.
It was his intention, in coming back to this country, to devote the time during which he supposed he would be compelled to wait for orders, to looking around him and familiarizing himself with the changes that had taken place in the Union during his absence; but he was never able to carry out this design, as he had no leisure time. His European reputation had preceded him hither, and he had scarcely opened his doors in New York before he was obliged to refuse orders, for lack of time to execute them. His hands were full from the first, and he at once took rank as the most thoroughly popular and accomplished artist in the country.
Early in 1860 he received from the Government of the United States a commission to decorate one of the marble stairways in the Capitol at Washington with a mural painting. The painting was to be executed in fresco, and he chose as his subject, "Westward the Star of Empire Takes its Way." He entered upon the undertaking with the keenest delight, and in order to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the true character of frontier scenery and life, performed what was then the long and difficult journey to the Rocky Mountains, where he made numerous sketches. Returning to the States, he sailed for Europe, and went to Munich to learn from Kaulbach the new stereochromatic process which has now superseded the fresco-painting of the middle ages. Returning to Washington, he applied himself to his task, and in a couple of years completed it.
The picture is the largest and finest mural painting in America, and adorns the magnificent stairway at the north end of the west corridor of the House of Representatives. It is lighted from a sky-light in the roof, and is seen to the best advantage from the upper corridor. The coloring is softer and more life-like than is often seen in such paintings. The surface of the wall is rough, but the work has been done by such a master hand that one seems to be gazing upon real life. It is a wonderful picture—one that will repay weeks of study.
The scene represents a train of emigrants crossing the Rocky Mountains. They have reached the summit of the range, from which a glorious view stretches out before them to the westward. The adventurers consist of the usual class of emigrants, men, women, and children. There are several wagons and a number of horses in the train. The faces of the emigrants express the various emotions which fill their hearts as they gaze upon the glorious scene before them. Some are full of life and vigor, and hope beams in every feature, while others are struggling with sickness and despair. The advance of the train has been momentarily checked by a huge tree which has fallen across the trail, and two stout men, under the direction of the leader of the party, who is sitting on his horse, are engaged in hewing it away with axes. Two others have climbed to the summit of the neighboring rocky crag, on which they have planted the banner of the Republic, which is seen flapping proudly from its lofty perch. In the foreground stands a manly youth, clasping his father's long rifle firmly, and gazing toward the promised land with a countenance glowing with hope and energy. His sister, as hopeful as himself, is seated by her mother's side, on a buffalo-robe which has been thrown over a rock. The mother's face is sad, but patient. She knows well the privations, toils, and hardships which await them in the new home-land, but she tries to share the enthusiasm and hope of her children. She clasps her nursing infant to her breast, and listens to her husband, who stands by and points her to the new country where they will have a home of their own. Her face is inexpressibly beautiful. The rich, warm light of the rising sun streams brightly over the whole scene, and gives to it a magical glow. The legend, "Westward the Star of Empire Takes its Way," is inscribed over the painting, in letters of gold.
An elaborate illuminated border, illustrative of the advance of civilization in the West, surrounds the painting, and is in itself one of the most perfect works of art in the Capitol.
Leutze received the sum of $20,000 for this painting. After completing it, some matters connected with his family required him to make a visit to Dusseldorf, and upon reaching that place he was warmly welcomed by the artists, on the 10th of June, 1863, at their club. "About one hundred and fifty lords of art," says a letter from Dusseldorf, "assembled at the 'Mahlkasten,' just outside of the Hof-Garten. This is the club-house of the painters, and, with its gardens, is their property. Leutze was received with music, and when he came within reach of the assembled company, there was a general rush to shake his hands, kiss his cheeks, and hug him. The old fellows were much affected at the scene, and were heartily glad to see their old companion once more. The guest made a short and feeling address, whereupon all went in to supper. Here two of the artists had arrayed themselves, one as a negro, the other as an Indian; and these brought in the first dishes and handed them to Leutze. Andreas Achenbach sat at Leutze's right, and his old friend Tryst at his left. After dinner, the calumet cf peace was passed around; there was speaking and drinking of healths, with songs afterward in the illuminated garden. The occasion appears to have been a very pleasant and right merry one, and is said to have been the happiest festival ever given by the Society of Artists."
Returning to the United States a few months later, Leutze repaired to Washington, where he had permanently settled. He was given several commissions by the Government, and at once began to design his subjects. They were only in the cartoon, however, at the time of his death. One of these, "Civilization," was to have been placed in the Senate Chamber, and was partly finished. It is said to have given promise of being his finest production. He also left a sketch of an immense picture, "The Emancipation." He was always a hard worker, and this doubtless contributed to bring about his death, which took place on the 18th of July, 1868. The immediate cause was apoplexy, superinduced by the intense heat.
"Mr. Leutze," says a writer in the Annual Cyclopedia, "was altogether the best educated artist in America, possessed of vast technical learning, of great genius, and fine powers of conception. His weakest point was in his coloring, but even here he was superior to most others."
"Leutze," says Mr. Tuckerman, "delights in representing adventure. He ardently sympathizes with chivalric action and spirit-stirring events: not the abstractly beautiful or the simply true, but the heroic, the progressive, the individual, and earnest phases of life, warm his fancy and attract his pencil. His forte is the dramatic.... If Leutze were not a painter, he would certainly join some expedition to the Rocky Mountains, thrust himself into a fiery political controversy, or seek to wrest a new truth from the arcana of science.... We remember hearing a brother artist describe him in his studio at Home, engaged for hours upon a picture, deftly shifting palette, cigar, and maul-stick from hand to hand, as occasion required; absorbed, rapid, intent, and then suddenly breaking from his quiet task to vent his constrained spirits in a jovial song, or a romp with his great dog, whose vociferous barking he thoroughly enjoyed; and often abandoning his quiet studies for some wild, elaborate frolic, as if a row was essential to his happiness. His very jokes partook of this bold heartiness of disposition. He scorned all ultra refinement, and found his impulse to art not so much in delicate perception as in vivid sensation. There was ever a reaction from the meditative. His temperament is Teutonic—hardy, cordial, and brave. Such men hold the conventional in little reverence, and their natures gush like mountain streams, with wild freedom and unchastened enthusiasm."