Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British1852
Leutze returned to this country from Düsseldorf in September 1851 to be present during the exhibition in New York and Washington of his phenomenally successful showpiece Washington Crossing the Delaware. By February 1852, working in his New York studio, he had begun Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British. It was to be the second of some dozen subjects from the Revolutionary War that he was to paint, capitalizing on the fact that the sensational response to his Washington Crossing the Delaware was henceforth to link his name with such subject matter. Patriotic feelings stirred by the Mexican American War had already inspired patronage for other artists’ efforts on such themes. Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler (1734-1803), wife of General Philip Schuyler, is shown setting fire to her wheat fields to keep them from the enemy, whose imminent arrival is announced by a messenger. The first account of this act of heroism to appear in print was a passage in the chapter on Mrs. Schuyler in Elizabeth F. Ellet’s The Women of the American Revolution (1848), one of the many anthologies of Revolutionary War feminine heroism popular during the period. It was based on the account of Mrs. Schuyler written in 1846 by Catherine Van Rensselaer Cochrane, Mrs. Schuyler’s youngest daughter. Surviving documents do not support this family tradition, however. Although General Schuyler pursued a scorched-earth policy and Mrs. Schuyler traveled twice to the estate to pack furnishings during July 1777, the British under John Burgoyne arrived at Saratoga (now called Schuylerville) on September 13 to find the large plantation virtually intact. The painting reflects the skillful history painting tradition of Düsseldorf in its clearly subordinated composition and use of antique sculptural models for two of the figures. Leutze’s freedom in adding genrelike secondary activity of his own invention is balanced by his efforts to obtain an accurate portrayal of Mrs. Schuyler by studying a portrait in the family’s possession (probably one now in the New-York Historical Society). Leutze’s reputation as an outstanding colorist is supported by the painting’s rich harmonies.
- Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
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