|John Trumbull, self-portrait ca. 1802|
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
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 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|
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.