Object Image

Washington Crossing the Delaware: American Revolutionary Soldier

In 1959, Alex Katz began painting figures on canvas, cutting them out and then pasting them onto wooden boards. Two years later the playwright Kenneth Koch saw an exhibition of these and asked Katz to produce the props and sets for his one-act play George Washington Crossing the Delaware. In Koch's satire, Washington's famous crossing was motivated by his childhood when, after cutting down the cherry tree, the young Washington swam across a river to avoid his father's wrath. The play became an underground hit largely because of Katz's irreverent image of Washington. At the time, art critic Irving Sandler described the cutouts as "the perfect setting for the delivery of such lines as the following from the father of our country: 'I am tired and I need sleep. Good night America.'"

Luce Object Quote

"I do not think that sets or costumes should decorate a play... Rather, they should interpret the spirit and present it as strongly as the play." Alex Katz, quoted in Sandler, "In the Art Galleries," New York Post, February 9, 1964

Credit: Gift of Aaron Kozak

1961
Oil on plywood
56.8 x 48.2 x 16.2 cm
1980.139.2
Image and text: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2023

Where you'll find this

Smithsonian American Art Museum