Born 24 May 1816, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, near Stuttgart, Germany. 1825, emigrated with family to Philadelphia. 1834, studied drawing from casts and portraiture with John Rubens Smith. 1836, commissioned by Longacre and Herring to paint portraits for a National Portrait Gallery of Distinguished Americans in Washington, D.C.; project cancelled due to financial crisis of 1837. 1837–39, itinerant portraitist in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania. 1839, settled in Philadelphia; began painting literary subjects.
1841, Philadelphia patrons sent him to Düsseldorf to study at the academy; specialized in historical subjects. Left Düsseldorf1843, dissatisfied with conservatism; traveled to Italy. Returned to Düsseldorf in 1845 to marry Juliane Lottner. Associated with founding of Malkasten, a dissident artists' group, which pressed for political unification of German states. 1849, due to political ties, forced to resign from Union of Düsseldorf Artists for Mutual Aid and Support; began work on Washington Crossing the Delaware, which was damaged in an 1850 studio fire. January 1851, began work on second version, which was exhibited in New York and Washington to acclaim.
1852, petitioned Congress to commission replica of the painting, together with pendant, Washington Rallying the Troops at Monmouth; completed 1854. Traveled to southern Germany to help organize pan-Germanic congress of artists. 1859, returned to U.S. 1860, elected member, National Academy of Design. 1861, commissioned to paint mural, Westward the Course of Empire, [mural study, SAAM, 1931.6.1] in U.S. Capitol; completed 1862. 1863, returned to Düsseldorf to bring family to U.S.
William Kloss Treasures from the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985)
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's family were political refugees from Germany, who immigrated to America when Emanuel was nine. He began his art career as an itinerant portrait painter and miniaturist, and returned to Germany for training in Düsseldorf in 1841; during the 1840s and 1850s, he became one of the leading artists of the Düsseldorf Academy. Leutze believed passionately in America’s democratic government, and supported the German uprising of 1848 against the king. When he returned to the United States in 1859, he painted his most famous work, Washington Crossing the Delaware. In 1862 he completed his mural, Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way, for the U.S. Capitol building. A small study for that painting is here in the Museum.