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John Trumbull
John Trumbull, painted by Gilbert Stuart, 1818
Born (1756-06-06)June 6, 1756
Lebanon, Connecticut
Died November 10, 1843(1843-11-10) (aged 87)
New York, New York
Nationality American

John Trumbull (June 6, 1756 – November 10, 1843) was an American artist during the period of the American Revolutionary War and was notable for his historical paintings. His Declaration of Independence (1817) was used on the reverse of the two-dollar bill.

Early years[edit | edit source]

Trumbull's self-portrait painted in 1777.

The Death of Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec (1787)

Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, to Jonathan Trumbull, who was Governor of Connecticut from 1769 to 1784, and his wife Faith Robinson Trumbull. He entered the 1771 junior class at Harvard University at age fifteen and graduated in 1773. Due to a childhood accident, Trumbull lost use of one eye, which may have influenced his detailed painting style.[1]

As a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, Trumbull rendered a particular service at Boston by sketching plans of the British works, and witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was appointed second personal aide to General George Washington, and in June 1776, deputy adjutant-general to General Horatio Gates. He resigned from the army in 1777.

In 1780 he traveled to London, where he studied under Benjamin West. At his suggestion, Trumbull painted small pictures of the War of Independence and miniature portraits, of which he produced about 250 in his lifetime.

On September 23, 1780, British agent Major John André was captured in America and was hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780. News reached Europe, and as an officer of similar rank as André in the Continental Army, Trumbull was imprisoned for seven months in London's Tothill Fields Bridewell.

In 1784 he was again in London working under West, in whose studio he painted his Battle of Bunker Hill and Death of General Montgomery at Quebec. Both works are now in the Yale University Art Gallery.

In 1785 Trumbull went to Paris, where he made portrait sketches of French officers for Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. With the assistance of Thomas Jefferson, he began Declaration of Independence, well-known from the engraving by Asher Brown Durand. This latter painting was purchased by the United States Congress, along with his Surrender of General Burgoyne, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and Washington Resigning his Commission. All now hang in rotunda of the United States Capitol. Allegedly because Congress only voted enough money for four paintings, only these four of Trumbull's paintings on the Revolution are hung there. Not hung were Death of General Warren at Bunker Hill; Death of General Montgomery at Quebec; Capture of Hessians at Battle of Trenton; Death of General Mercer at Battle of Princeton. Trumbull's The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar, 1789, owned by the Boston Athenaeum, is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While in Paris, Trumbull is credited with having introduced Thomas Jefferson to the Italian painter Maria Cosway, who would turn out to become an intimate friend of his for the rest of his life.

Middle years[edit | edit source]

George Washington Before the Battle of Trenton, oil on canvas, c. 1792. Yale University Art Gallery

Trumbull sold a series of 28 paintings and 60 miniature portraits to Yale University in 1831 for an annuity of $1,000. This is by far the largest single collection of his works. The collection was originally housed in a neoclassical art gallery designed by Trumbull on Yale's Old Campus, along with portraits by other artists.[2]

His portraits include full lengths of General Washington (1790) and George Clinton (1791), in New York City Hall, where there are also full lengths of Alexander Hamilton (1805, and the source of the face on the $10 bill[3]) and John Jay, and portraits of John Adams (1797), Jonathan Trumbull, and Rufus King (1800); of Timothy Dwight and Stephen Van Rensselaer (both at Yale), Alexander Hamilton (in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, both taken from Ceracchi's bust), a portrait of himself painted in 1833, a full-length of Washington, at Charleston, South Carolina, a full length of Washington in uniform (1792), (now at Yale), and portraits of President and Mrs. Washington (1794), in the National Museum of American History.[citation needed]

Trumbull's own portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart and by many others.

In 1794 Trumbull acted as secretary to John Jay in London during the negotiation of the treaty with Great Britain, and in 1796 he was appointed by the commissioners sent by the two countries the fifth commissioner to carry out the seventh article of the treaty.

Later years[edit | edit source]

Reverse of U.S. two-dollar bill
John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence.

John Trumbull commemorative postage stamp, 1968.

Trumbull was appointed president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts, a position he held for nine years, from 1816 to 1825, though he did not get along with the students, and his skills declined. By 1825, his lack of support for the students led to the downfall of the Academy with the students rebelling and founding the National Academy of Design.[4] He published an autobiography in 1841.

He died in New York City at the age of 87 on November 10, 1843. He was originally interred (along with his wife) beneath the Art Gallery at Yale University that he had designed. In 1867, his collection and remains were moved to the newly built Street Hall.[5] The Trumbull Gallery was later razed.

The John Trumbull Birthplace in Lebanon, Connecticut, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Paintings[edit | edit source]

Gallery of Trumbull Paintings[edit | edit source]

Historic Events[edit | edit source]

Portraits[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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