John Trumbull
Self Portrait by John Trumbull circa 1802.jpeg
Self-portrait, c. 1802
Born(1756-06-06)June 6, 1756
DiedNovember 10, 1843(1843-11-10) (aged 87)
NationalityAmerican
Educationwith Benjamin West
Known forPainting
Notable work
Declaration of Independence (painted 1817–1819)

John Trumbull (/ˈtrʌmbəl/; June 6, 1756 – November 10, 1843) was an American artist of the early independence period, notable for his historical paintings of the American Revolutionary War, of which he was a veteran. He has been called "The Painter of the Revolution".[1]

Trumbull's Declaration of Independence (1817), one of his four paintings which hang in the United States Capitol Rotunda, was used on the reverse of the commemorative bicentennial two-dollar bill.

Early life

Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, to Jonathan Trumbull and Faith (née Robinson) Trumbull. His father served as Governor of Connecticut from 1769 to 1784. Both sides of his family were descended from early Puritan settlers in the state.

He had two older brothers, Joseph Trumbull, the first commissary general of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War, and Jonathan Trumbull Jr., who would become the second Speaker of the House of the United States.

The young Trumbull entered the 1771 junior class at Harvard College at age fifteen and graduated in 1773. Due to a childhood accident, Trumbull lost the use of one eye. This may have influenced his detailed painting style.[2]

Revolutionary War

As a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, Trumbull rendered a particular service at Boston by sketching plans of the British and American lines and works.[3] He witnessed the Battle of Bunker Hill. He was appointed second aide-de-camp to General George Washington, and in June 1776, deputy adjutant-general to General Horatio Gates.[4] He resigned from the army in 1777 after a dispute over the dating of his officer commission.

In 1780, with funds depleted, Trumbull turned to art as a profession. He traveled to London, where upon introduction from Benjamin Franklin, Trumbull studied under Benjamin West. At West's suggestion, Trumbull painted small pictures of the War of Independence and miniature portraits. He painted about 250 in his lifetime.[5]

On September 23, 1780, British agent Major John André was captured by Continental troops in North America; he was hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780. After news reached Great Britain, outrage flared and Trumbull was arrested, as having been an officer in the Continental Army of similar rank to André.[4] He was imprisoned for seven months in London's Tothill Fields Bridewell.[6][7]

After being released, Trumbull returned to the United States in a voyage that lasted six months, ending late January 1782. He then joined his brother David in supplying the army stationed at New Windsor, New York during the winter of 1782–83.[8][9]

Postwar years

John Trumbull, painted by Gilbert Stuart, 1818

In 1784, following Britain's recognition of the United States independence, Trumbull returned to London for painting study under West. His first major work, The Deputation from the Senate Presenting to Cincinnatus the Command of the Roman Armies, was accepted and displayed by the Royal Academy of Arts in that year. In this work, Trumbull had painted Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus in the likeness of George Washington. The painting is now unlocated.[10] While working in his studio, Trumbull painted Battle of Bunker Hill and Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec. Both works are now in the Yale University Art Gallery.

In July 1786, Trumbull went to Paris, where he made portrait sketches of French officers for the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. With the assistance of Thomas Jefferson, serving there as the American minister to France, Trumbull began the early composition of the Declaration of Independence.[11][12][4] Over the next 5 years Trumbull painted small portraits of signers, which he would later use to piece together the larger painting. If the signer was deceased, a previous portrait would be copied, as was the case with Arthur Middleton, whose head position stands out in the painting. While visiting with each signer or their family, Trumbull, always looking for funding, used the occasion to sell subscriptions to engravings that would be produced from his paintings of the American Revolution.[5]

While in Paris, Trumbull is credited with having introduced Jefferson to the Italian painter Maria Cosway; they became lifelong intimate friends. Trumbull's painting of Jefferson, commissioned by Cosway, became widely known due to a later engraving of it by Asher Brown Durand, which was reproduced.

Trumbull's Declaration of Independence painting was purchased by the United States Congress, along with his Surrender of General Burgoyne, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and General George Washington Resigning His Commission, all related to the Revolution. All now hang in rotunda of the United States Capitol. Congress reportedly authorized only funds sufficient to purchase these four paintings.

Trumbull completed several other paintings related to the Revolution: