We the People: Artworks for Independence Day

Masha Turchinsky
July 1, 2016

«Fireworks, parades, picnics, and family gatherings: these are just some of the ways people commemorate Independence Day in the United States. We'd like to suggest that you spend part of the holiday here at The Met, which will be open for you to enjoy these works of art and many more. Happy Fourth of July!»

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Emanuel Leutze (American, 1816–1868). Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851. Oil on canvas; 149 x 255 in. (378.5 x 647.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897 (97.34)

Onward! In Emanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware, General George Washington leads his American revolutionary troops across the Delaware River in a surprise attack at dawn on December 25, 1776. Almost everyone and everything seems to be in motion here except Washington, who, as the leader, stands calmly on the boat, looking ahead. Find these details: a flag waving, a foot kicking ice to the side, a horse on a boat, and reflections of people in the water.

Cow's Skull: Red, White and Blue

Georgia O'Keeffe, Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue
Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 1887–1986). Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue, 1931. Oil on canvas; 39 7/8 x 35 7/8 in. (101.3 x 91.1 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1952 (52.203)

For one of her most famous paintings, Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue, Georgia O'Keeffe chose the colors red, white, and blue to make the image appear patriotic. She was interested in creating a new idea of what "American" art could look like. Georgia O'Keeffe also signed the backs of many of her favorite works, like this one, with her initials, OK, in the middle of a five-pointed star.

White Flag

Jasper Johns, White Flag

Jasper Johns (American, 1930). White Flag, 1955. Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas; 78 5/16 x 120 3/4 in. (198.9 x 306.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Reba and Dave Williams, Stephen and Nan Swid, Roy R. and Marie S. Neuberger Foundation Inc., Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation Inc., Paula Cussi, Maria-Gaetana Matisse, The Barnett Newman Foundation, Jane and Robert Carroll, Eliot and Wilson Nolen, Mr. and Mrs. Derald H. Ruttenberg, Ruth and Seymour Klein Foundation Inc., Andrew N. Schiff, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Merrill G. and Emita E. Hastings Foundation, John J. Roche, Molly and Walter Bareiss, Linda and Morton Janklow, Aaron I. Fleischman, and Linford L. Lougheed Gifts, and gifts from friends of the Museum; Kathryn E. Hurd, Denise and Andrew Saul, George A. Hearn, Arthur Hoppock Hearn, Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Purchase, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Funds; Mayer Fund; Florene M. Schoenborn Bequest; Gifts of Professor and Mrs. Zevi Scharfstein and Himan Brown, and other gifts, bequests, and funds from various donors, by exchange, 1998. Art ©Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY (1998.329)

Jasper Johns made lots of flag paintings. White Flag is the largest one and the first one he painted in monochrome (using only one color). By making an all-white flag, he gave us room to imagine other colors the flag could be. Sketch a flag you're familiar with, but in different colors, and think about what those colors might symbolize or stand for.

Do you have any favorite artworks for Independence Day? Share them with us in the comments.

Masha Turchinsky

Masha Turchinsky was formerly a senior manager and senior producer of media production and online features in the Digital Department.