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Autumn Tea Party winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' giveaway of Mercy in a Red Cloak goes to Michelle. Denise Weimer's print copy of The Witness Tree goes to Roxanne C. Janet Grunst's winner of a print copy of The Highlanders is Alison Boss. Naomi Musch's winner of an ebook copy of The Highlanders is Sally D. Angela Couch's winners for ebook copies of choice of the Hearts of War series are Linda Palmer and Judy (heyjudybat). Congratulations, all! Please private message your e-mail or mailing address to the authors.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Painter of the Revolution

John Trumbull, self-portrait ca. 1802
Before a practical method of photography developed around the mid 1800s, the only way people had of “seeing” the past was through written descriptions and works of art. There’s much that can’t be conveyed in words, however, and we would have no idea of what the Founders of our Republic and the military leaders, battles, and landscapes of the Revolutionary War period actually looked like if it weren’t for contemporary sketches, drawings, paintings, and sculptures. In fact, one artist, a veteran of that war, became famous as the “Painter of the Revolution”. Today we’re greatly indebted to John Trumbull for his vivid and accurate depictions of the people, places, and events of a time so crucial to the existence of our nation.

Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1756, the youngest of six children of Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., and Faith Robinson Trumbull, both descendants of Puritans who were early settlers in the colony. His father was governor of Connecticut from 1769 to 1784. Although blinded in the left eye by a childhood accident, Trumbull entered the junior class at Harvard College in 1771 at the age of 15. During that period, he visited John Singleton Copley’s studio and was inspired to become a painter. After graduating in 1773, he taught school but joined the Continental Army when the colonies revolted against the British in 1775.

General George Washington at Trenton
by John Trumbull, 1792
While stationed at Boston, Trumbull provided sketches of both British and American lines and works and was a witness to the Battle of Bunker Hill. He served briefly as aide de camp to General George Washington, and in June 1776 was appointed deputy adjutant general to General Horatio Gates at the rank of colonel. In 1777 he resigned because of a dispute over the dating of his officer’s commission—a common cause of dissention among officers back then.

Deciding on a career in art, he traveled to London in 1780, where Benjamin Franklin introduced him to another American artist, Benjamin West. While studying under him, Trumbull openly supported the American cause, not a wise policy with the war still ongoing! The news of British agent Major John André’s capture and subsequent hanging as a spy by the Americans reached London, evoking public outrage and spurring the government to have him arrested in retaliation since he had been an officer in the Continental Army of similar rank to André. Trumbull was imprisoned for seven months, until West’s intervention secured his release.

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull, 1819
Trumbull returned to the United States, but when the peace treaty was ratified in 1783, he returned to London to again study under West. Over the next few years he made portrait sketches of French officers in Paris for his painting Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. He also began the early composition of Declaration of Independence, painting small portraits of the signers and copying previous portraits for those who had died, which he later used to piece together the larger painting.

Trumbull was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791 and served as its president. In 1794 he acted as John Jay’s secretary in London during negotiations for a treaty with Great Britain that settled America’s main boundary with Canada. A couple of years later he was appointed to a commission that mediated the claims of American and British merchants that remained from the war. He married Sarah Hope Harvey, an English amateur painter while there, but his attempts to make a living painting portraits in London had little success, and a studio in New York City met with similar results. Then in 1817 Congress commissioned him to paint four large pictures for the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, where they hang today: General George Washington Resigning His Commission, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, Surrender of General Burgoyne, and Declaration of Independence. He completed the series in 1824, basing it on the small originals of these scenes that he painted years earlier.

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull, 1820
By far the largest single collection of Trumbull’s works is held by Yale University. The collection was originally housed in a neoclassical art gallery he designed on Yale’s Old Campus. Among his portraits are ones of General Washington, George Clinton, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, and many others, some at full length. He also completed several self-portraits and was painted by Gilbert Stuart and other well-known artists.

Trumbull published his autobiography in 1841. He died 2 years later, on November 10, 1843, in New York City at the age of 87. He and his wife were interred beneath the Art Gallery at Yale University, which he had designed, but when the collection was moved to Street Hall in 1867, their remains were reinterred on those grounds.

I love to study the works of artists throughout the ages. In fact, I’d find it hard to write historical novels without having access to such works. How do images created by artists throughout history spark your imagination and enable you to understand and even identify with people, places, and events of previous times? Please share!

14 comments:

  1. So much of our interpretation of these events is based on these paintings! thanks Joan!

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    1. It perfectly illustrates the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Thanks for joining us, Debra!

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  2. Excellent post, Joan. These pieces of art have always held such a fascination for so many.

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    1. They really have, Janet! We can't even imagine how different our perception of past events would be if no images of them were available.

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  3. Love his work!! Thank you for posting this!

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    1. Oh, I do too, Shannon! I'm delighted that so many of his paintings can be viewed online on Wikipedia and other sites. They're just gorgeous, and what a resource for research!

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  4. Great post, Joan. I enjoyed the post and the pictures.
    Blessings, Tina

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    1. Thank you, Tina! If you haven't already, be sure to check out more of his paintings on Wikipedia and other online sites. They're amazing!

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  5. Interesting post! Sure glad he was able to pain and draw these things. Because they would have been lost without it. They could be visualized but to actually see it is so much better. He sure was good at what he did. He sure had an active military career. Will he be mentioned in FoF? No wait!! Wait! I don't think I want to know!!!
    Nice to see back!

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  6. We would definitely be the poorer if we didn't have his paintings of the Revolution, Bev. Actually seeing the people and events makes them come alive in a way words can't accomplish by themselves. And I am going to try to work Trumbull into FoF, though it'll be tricky since he was mainly in England during that time. He might just get a mention.

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  7. Thanks for sharing. I am grateful to have these pictures!

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    1. Connie, I wish I could have included more of his masterpieces, but they're easy to find in an online search. Wikipedia has a lot of them. It's hard to believe that he struggled financially during his lifetime. His work really is amazing! Thanks for joining us!

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  8. Thank you for this beautiful post, Joan! Another wonderful way to understand history--it's a great example to show us how to follow through using our skills, in whatever measure or calling, to teach future generations. Blessings CQ--wishing members a Happy Thanksgiving!

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  9. Very interesting!I've often come across photos of these paintings, but never considered when they were painted or by whom. Sounds like he was quite a patriot.

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