Sunday, July 5, 2015

John Trumbull

The Declaration of Independence
oil on canvas
3.7 × 5.5 m
U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., USA

John Trumbull (1756-1843), born in Connecticut, 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.

He was the son of the Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull. Both sides of his family were descended from early Puritan settlers in the state. A boyhood injury to his left eye made him virtually monocular. After graduating from Harvard College in 1773, he worked as a teacher. During the American Revolution he served as an aide to General George Washington and achieved the rank of colonel.

In 1780 he went to London, but, in reprisal for the hanging of a British agent by the Americans, he was imprisoned there. Once released, he returned home but subsequently went back to London by 1784 to study with the painter Benjamin West. At the suggestion of West and with the encouragement of Thomas Jefferson, he began the celebrated series of historical paintings and engravings that he was to work on sporadically for the remainder of his life. While moving back and forth between England and the United States, in 1817 he was commissioned by the U.S. Congress to paint four large pictures in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington, D.C.: Washington Resigning His Commission, The Surrender of Cornwallis, The Surrender of Burgoyne, and, best known of all, Declaration of Independence.

In 1831, a professor at Yale, established the Trumbull Gallery at Yale, the first art gallery at an educational institution in America. Trumbull gave his best works to this gallery in exchange for an annuity.