North Swell (Washington Crossing the Delaware)< …

Sandow Birk
North Swell (Washington Crossing the Delaware)
Oil on canvas, 1990
37-1/2 x 63 inches
From the Stuart and Judy Spence Collection, donated April 1999 by Judy and Stuart Spence
1999.004.020

In the painting North Swell (Washington Crossing the Delaware) from 1990, Sandow Birk references the iconic oil painting Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by German American artist Emanuel Leutze. The original painting depicts Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, during the Revolutionary War.

Birk comments, “The idea that I hoped to convey in this painting was that surfing as an activity was not a teenage fad or teen activity from the 1950s Gidget years, but rather that surfing is an activity that comes out of the long history of the sea—the history of fishing, exploring, whaling and sea battles. Surfers are more like mariners in that they have a strong knowledge of weather and the sea, of tides and swells, much like other mariners.”

By using a recognizable composition and incorporating aspects from a well-known painting, Birk hoped that the viewer would make a connection between the historical painting and the contemporary one, linking past and present, and, more importantly, make a connection between maritime history and the art of surfing.