Pulling Down the Statue Of King George III, New York City

Object Number: 
Oil on canvas
Overall (canvas): 32 x 41 1/4 in. (81.3 x 104.8 cm) Frame: 44 1/8 x 53 1/16 x 6 1/4 in. (44 1/8 x 53 1/16 x 6 1/4 in.)
Gallery Label: 

This painting documents the destruction of the gilded lead statue of King George III of Great Britain in Bowling Green, N.Y., by the New Yorkers and Continental soldiery after the Declaration of Independence had been read to Washington's troops on the Commons on July 9, 1776. Fragments of the statue and the stone base on which it stood are preserved in the Society's collection. A hand-colored engraving of Oertel's painting (20 x 29 1/2 inches, plus margins) was engraved and published by John C. McRae, New York, 1859. The placement of some figures in the engraving is not identical with those in the Society's painting. The artist's inclusion of an African American just below the statue would have recalled the editorials of the noted abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who argued that the freedoms guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence applied to all Americans, regardless of color. The Native American family depicted leaving the scene at left might suggest the passing of one phase of American history and the dawning of a new era. The composition in the 1859 engraving differs from the painting in the omission of the Native American group in the left foreground. In the engraving the Native American is seen but he is obscured by a Continental soldier. In the painting an African-American is seen in a central group of figures in front by the pedestal. (His presence is not obviously apparent in the engraving mentioned above) This group forms a triangle. The convention of using triangular groupings comes from Renaissance traditions. Albert Boime in his book "The Art of Exclusion" postulates that the positioning of the young African-American man at the base of a triangular format is symbolic of his position in colonial society. Although the African-American is seen as a participant in the establishment of American Independence he is dominated by white countrymen. In 1855 when William C. Nell, pioneer black historian and abolutionist, published his "Colored Patriots of the American Revolution," his friend Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the introduction to the book. In this introduction Stowe wrote that "We are to reflect upon them (African-Americans) as far more magnanimous" because they served a nation that did not see them as "citizens and equals" and in this name nation the African-Americans' "interests and properity" were not protected.

Credit Line: 
Gift of Samuel Verplanck Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.
Creative: Tronvig Group