Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British

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Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British

United States, 1852
Paintings
Oil on canvas
32 x 40 in. (81.28 x 101.6 cm)
Bicentennial gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Schaaf, Mr. and Mrs. William D. Witherspoon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles C. Shoemaker, and Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr. (M.76.91)
Currently on public view:
Art of the Americas Building, floor 3 MAP IT
Art of the Americas Building, floor 3

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Curator Notes

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 Delawa...
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.
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About The Era

After the Jacksonian presidency (1829–37), the adolescent country began an aggressive foreign policy of territorial expansion, exemplified by the success of the Mexican-American War (1846–48)....
After the Jacksonian presidency (1829–37), the adolescent country began an aggressive foreign policy of territorial expansion, exemplified by the success of the Mexican-American War (1846–48). Economic growth, spurred by new technologies such as the railroad and telegraph, assisted the early stages of empire building. As a comfortable and expanding middle class began to demonstrate its wealth and power, a fervent nationalist spirit was celebrated in the writings of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. Artists such as Emanuel Leutze produced history paintings re-creating the glorious past of the relatively new country. Such idealizations ignored the mounting political and social differences that threatened to split the country apart. The Civil War slowed development, affecting every fiber of society, but surprisingly was not the theme of many paintings. The war’s devastation did not destroy the American belief in progress, and there was an undercurrent of excitement due to economic expansion and increased settlement of the West.
During the postwar period Americans also began enthusiastically turning their attention abroad. They flocked to Europe to visit London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Berlin, the major cities on the Grand Tour. Art schools in the United States offered limited classes, so the royal academies in Germany, France, and England attracted thousands of young Americans. By the 1870s American painting no longer evinced a singleness of purpose. Although Winslow Homer became the quintessential Yankee painter, with his representations of country life during the reconstruction era, European aesthetics began to infiltrate taste.
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Label

Exhibition Label, 1997 ...
Exhibition Label, 1997 Emanuel Leutze is most often identified with his Washington Crossing the Delaware (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), perhaps the most famous depiction of the American Revolution. Leutze created that historical painting in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1851, then returned to his adopted country to exhibit it. During his stay the artist decided to capitalize on the success of the painting by initiating a series based on events of the war. The second was Mrs. Schuyler Burning Her Wheat Fields on the Approach of the British. Like George Washington, Mrs. Schuyler was a legendary hero whose accomplishments had become folklore by mid-century. Catherine Schuyler was the wife of General Philip Schuyler, who advocated a scorched-earth policy toward the British. According to family tradition (later proved false), when British troops advanced on the Schuyler’s summer estate in Saratoga, New York, she decided to torch her fields rather than allow the enemy to seize the wheat. Leutze conceived the narrative as a theatrical scene, with Mrs. Schuyler center state. By presenting her in a red, white, and blue gown Leutze not only revealed his skill as a colorist but also underscored Mrs. Schuyler’s patriotic deed. The frame is an excellent example of the fluted cove design that became popular in the 1860s.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • About the Era.
  • Donahue, Kenneth. Los Angeles County Museum of Art Handbook. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1977.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.
  • Howat, John K. and Voorsanger, Catherine.  Art and the Empire City: New York, 1825-1861.  New York and New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Berkin, Carol; Cherny, Robert W.; Gormly, James L.; Mainwearing, W. Thomas; and Miller, Christopher L.  Making America: A History of the United States.  Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
  • LACMA: Obras Maestras 1750-1950: Pintura Estadounidense Del Museo De Arte Del Condado De Los Angeles. Mexico, D.F.: Museo Nacional de Arte, 2006.
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