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Entry of George Washington into New York in 1783 - 19th Century Print

Entry of George Washington into New York in 1783 - 19th Century Print


November 25, 1783, marked the end of the seven-year British occupation of New York City during the American Revolutionary War. As British troops withdrew from their last enclave on American soil, General George Washington, accompanied by New York Governor George Clinton, led the Continental Army from Harlem south through Manhattan to the Battery. Patriots lined the city streets and hoisted American flags on their homes and businesses, and crowds cheered as the triumphal procession passed by. The day became an official municipal holiday, and every year, at least into the mid-1900s, Manhattan celebrated Washington’s return to New York with parades, fireworks, and military displays.

This monumental print describes Washington’s entry into New York with requisite pomp and circumstance. As the General rides into the foreground on a white steed, Governor Clinton tips his tricorne hat to the people. Martha Washington observes from a balcony beneath the stars and stripes, while an animated crowd that includes a wounded soldier and an African American woman throngs the streets. Two Indigenous Americans at the left join the spectators. The only hint of misgiving is the pose of the third Indigenous man on the steps of the righthand building, sitting apart from the crowd and leaning slightly away from the festivities.

The painting that this print was copied from was formerly attributed to Felix Octavius Carr Darley and has been listed as such since 1969. Knoedler Gallery presumably based this attribution upon a listing in the 1853 NAD Annual Exhibition for “Entry of Washington into New-York, after the City Was Evacuated by the British, in 1793, Nov. 26th [sic for Nov. 25, 1783]. F.O.C. Darley.” In fact, the exhibited work was likely a wash drawing now in the Historical Society collections. Darley was not a painter but a renowned illustrator, and the medium of wash would have been characteristic of his work. The monogram “D.” in the lower left corner suggests that the drawing is a finished piece. And the composition became sufficiently well known that it served as the basis of an 1858 print titled Triumph of Patriotism: Washington entering New York 25 November 1783, signed F O C Darley fecit on the plate, and inscribed DRAWN BY F O C DARLEY and ENGRAVED BY A H RITCHIE.

Entry of George Washington into New York in 1783 matches instead a print by the Philadelphia lithography firm of Herline and Hensel. Its composition departs from that of the works by Darley. The fluid diagonals of the latter have stiffened into a blockier and more geometric composition, and the perspective has shifted. A row of houses now obstructs the central vanishing point, and the rendering of Washington’s horse has turned from a dramatically foreshortened to a more oblique perspective. The print does not credit an artist, and it resembles numerous mid-nineteenth-century Evacuation Day prints that repeat the same basic figures and features with only minor changes in their posture, placement, and setting. The lack of attribution and the striking similarity to other works suggest that, although produced on a grand scale, Entry of George Washington into New York in 1783 is best understood not as the singular work of a recognizable artist but rather as one of a mass visual culture of remembrance honoring the day the British retreated from New York.

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