Seminal Works:

Washington Crossing the Delaware

In 1953, after reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Larry Rivers decided that he wanted to paint, “the most controversial painting of our time.” In his 1992 autobiography, “What did I Do?” Rivers describes how Tolstoy’s work served as the impetus for what proved to be the most controversial and perhaps the most influential painting of his time. 


“Tolstoy’s novel was not something I could see, not a figure or a landscape, a church or a mountainside. By meshing Napoleon’s invasion of Russia with contemporary life, Tolstoy set me on a course that produced Washington Crossing the Delaware…… This work was going to take my style of painting, charcoal drawing and rag wiping, to a new height. The mixture of grand art and absurdity was with me from the beginning.”


With the success of Washington Crossing the Delaware Rivers was, as he further describes in his autobiography, “branded a rebel against the rebellious abstract expressionists, which made me a reactionary.”


Whether or not Rivers ever accepted the term “reactionary” it does fit. Following the work Washington Crossing the Delaware, there were several pivotal moments in River’s career when he deliberately set out to make a statement about a particular movement or subject. Very often, the incentive for these seminal works seems to be born out of a drive to question the status quo.

Click Here for a brief Flash presentation on Washington Crossing the Delaware that includes notes and sketches by the artist.

Washington Crossing the Delaware is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art.




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