John Trumbull

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)
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, is used on the reverse of the current United States 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] He also painted a portrait of Washington from memory during this time.[6]

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 for high treason, as he was an officer in the Continental Army of similar rank to André.[4][7] He was imprisoned for seven months in London's Tothill Fields Bridewell.[8][9]

After being released, Trumbull returned to the United States on a voyage that lasted six months, ending in 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.[10][11]

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.[12] 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.[13][14][4] Over the next 5 years Trumbull painted small portraits of the 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:

Middle years

Trumbull's portraits also include full lengths of General Washington (1790) and George Clinton (1791), now held in New York City Hall.[4] New York City Hall also hangs Trumbull's portrait of Mayor Richard Varick, who commissioned the 1790 portrait of Washington. New York also bought his full-length paintings of Alexander Hamilton (1805, the source of the face on the $10 bill[15]) and John Jay. Trumbull was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791[16] and elected as a member of the American Philosophical Society in 1792.[17]

He painted portraits of John Adams (1797), Jonathan Trumbull, and Rufus King (1800); Timothy Dwight and Stephen Van Rensselaer (both at Yale), Alexander Hamilton (one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and one in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, both taken from Ceracchi's bust), a self-portrait (1833), a full-length of Washington, held at Charleston, South Carolina; a full-length of Washington in uniform, General George Washington at Trenton, (1792, at Yale); and portraits of President and Mrs. Washington (1794), in the National Museum of American History.[4]

Trumbull himself was painted by Gilbert Stuart and many others.

In 1794 Trumbull acted as secretary to John Jay in London during the negotiation of the treaty with Great Britain, which largely settled the boundary with Canada and began cotton export to the country. In 1796 he was appointed by the commissioners sent by the two countries as the fifth member of a commission charged with carrying out the seventh article of the Jay Treaty,[4] which mediated claims by American and British merchants and the opposing government stemming from actions which occurred during the war. Shortly after the end of Trumbull's service on this commission, he traveled to Stuttgart to pick up the completed engraving of the Battle of Bunker's Hill. On the return trip he passed through Paris and carried the first dispatch from the XYZ Affair out of France.[18]

Trumbull would later encounter hard times during which he was failing to sell his paintings individually. In 1831, he sold a series of 28 paintings and 60 miniature portraits to Yale University for an annuity of $1,000. After many years of trying to create income from his paintings, he had finally found a way to sustain himself from his art.[5] 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.[19]

Later years

John Trumbull, painted by James Frothingham

Trumbull was appointed president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts in New York City, serving for twenty years, from 1816 to 1836.[20] Emphasizing classical traditions, Trumbull did not get along with the students. At the same time, his painting skills declined. In 1825 many of the students withdrew, founding the National Academy of Design.[21] Unable to accommodate to changing tastes, the American Academy later closed in 1839 after a second fire destroyed its collections.

Trumbull wrote his autobiography, which he published in 1841. He died in New York City at the age of 87 on November 10, 1843.

Legacy and honors

Reverse of U.S. two-dollar bill, featuring Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
Trumbull commemorative postage stamp, 1968
  • Trumbull was originally interred (along with his wife) beneath the Art Gallery at Yale University, which he had designed. In 1867, the collection of his works were moved to the newly built Street Hall. His and his wife's remains were reinterred on those grounds.[22] The Trumbull Gallery was later razed.
  • 1965, the John Trumbull Birthplace in Lebanon, Connecticut, was declared a National Historic Landmark.
  • 1968, a John Trumbull commemorative postage stamp was printed.

In popular culture

  • Actor Buzz Bovshow played John Trumbull in the television miniseries John Adams.



Historic events


Miniature portraits/sketches


  1. ^ Johnston, Elizabeth Bryant (1882). "John Trumbull". Original Portraits of Washington, including Statues, Monuments and Medals. p. 66. OCLC 3303313.
  2. ^ "Gentleman John Trumbull". Time Magazine. October 29, 1956. Archived from the original on October 1, 2007. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
  3. ^ Sketch of British and American Lines and Fortifications in Boston Area by John Trumbull, 1775.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Trumbull, John". Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 324.
  5. ^ a b c Trumbull (1841), pp. 288–94.
  6. ^ Caldwell, John; Rodriguez Roque, Oswaldo; Johnson, Dale T. (1994). "John Trumbull: George Washington". In Kathleen Luhrs (ed.). American Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Volume I: A Catalogue of Works by Artists Born by 1815. Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 201–203. |volume= has extra text (help)
  7. ^ Digges, Thomas (November 22, 1780). "To John Adams from Thomas Digges, 22 November 1780". Founders Online, National Archives. A person of the name of Trumbull was taken up for high Treason on Sunday night and committed Irond to Prison.
  8. ^ Jaffe (1975), p. 50.
  9. ^ Heleniak, Kathryn Moore. "Benjamin West and John Trumbull". Fordham University. Archived from the original on March 20, 2016. Retrieved November 19, 2017.
  10. ^ Jaffe (1975), pp. 53–54.
  11. ^ Trumbull (1841), p. 88.
  12. ^ Jaffe (1975), p. 60.
  13. ^ Adams, William Howard (2000). The Paris Years of Thomas Jefferson. pp. 90–2. ISBN 978-0-30008-261-6.
  14. ^ Trumbull (1841), pp. 95–6.
  15. ^ Dunlap, David W. (December 6, 2006). "In New York, Taking Years Off the Old, Famous Faces Adorning City Hall". The New York Times. Retrieved January 7, 2007.
  16. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter T" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  17. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved April 5, 2021.
  18. ^ Jaffe (1975), pp. 177–82.
  19. ^ "Yale University Art Gallery: Architecture". Trumbull Gallery (1832)
  20. ^ Jaffe (1975), pp. 264–75.
  21. ^ Dunlap, William (1918). A History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States (Vol 3). C. E. Goodspeed & Co. pp. 52–57. Retrieved February 17, 2008.
  22. ^ Trumbull Gallery at Yale Archived March 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine


External links

Media files used on this page

Declaration of Independence (1819), by John Trumbull.jpg
John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.
John Trumbull James Frothingham.jpg
TRUMBULL, JOHN (1756-1843)

Artist: Frothingham, James (1786-1864)

Medium: Oil on canvas
George Wythe by John Trumbull.jpg
Sketch of Virginia professor of law and statesman George Wythe as drawn by the artist John Trumbull. Courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg
The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton December 26 1776.jpeg
The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776 celebrates the important victory by General George Washington at the Battle of Trenton. In the center of the painting, Washington is focused on the needs of the mortally wounded Hessian Colonel Johann Rall. On the left, the severely wounded Lieutenant James Monroe is helped by Dr. John RIker. On the right is Major General Nathanael Greene on horseback.
Washington at Verplanck's Point by John Trumbull.jpg
George Washington at Verplanck's Point on the North River on September 14, 1782, reviewing the French troops under General Rochambeau on their return from Virginia after the victory at Yorktown.
George Washington by John Trumbull (1780).jpg
In this portrait of George Washington, he is shown standing on a bluff above the Hudson River with his enslaved personal servant, William "Billy" Lee, on horseback behind him. The view across the river encompasses West Point, New York, with a red-and-white banner, possibly the Navy ensign adopted in 1775, flying atop the fortress. Trumbull had served on Washington’s staff as an aide-de-camp early in the Revolutionary War. He painted this portrait from memory about five years later, when he was studying in London. It was the first authoritative representation of Washington available in Europe and was soon copied throughout the Continent.
The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton January 3 1777.jpeg
The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 displays several events at the Battle of Princeton. At the center, American General Hugh Mercer, with his horse beneath him, is mortally wounded. At the left, American Daniel Neil is bayoneted against a cannon. At the right, British Captain William Leslie is shown mortally wounded. In the background, American General George Washington and Doctor Benjamin Rush enter the scene.
George Clinton by John Trumbull 1791.jpg
Full-length portrait of George Clinton by John Trumbull painted in 1791 for New York City.
Surrender of Lord Cornwallis.jpg
This painting depicts the forces of British Major General Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis (1738–1805) (who was not himself present at the surrender), surrendering to French and American forces after the Siege of Yorktown (September 28 – October 19, 1781) during the American Revolutionary War. The central figures depicted are Generals Charles O'Hara and Benjamin Lincoln. The United States government commissioned Trumbull to paint patriotic paintings, including this piece, for them in 1817, paying for the piece in 1820.
Richard varick 1805 john trumbull.png
Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: PD
The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar.jpg
The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar
John Trumbull, Lady in White.jpg
Author/Creator: John Trumbull , Licence: CC BY-SA 4.0
Lady in white
The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec December 31 1775.jpeg
The The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec, December 31, 1775 is an 1786 oil painting by John Trumbull. It depicts the tragic death of the American General Richard Montgomery at the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1775, during the Invasion of Quebec, a major military operation by the Continental Army in the American Revolutionary War.
Surrender of General Burgoyne.jpg

The scene of the surrender of the British General John Burgoyne at Saratoga, on October 17, 1777, was a turning point in the American Revolutionary War that prevented the British from dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. The central figure is the American General Horatio Gates, who refused to take the sword offered by General Burgoyne, and, treating him as a gentleman, invites him into his tent. All of the figures in the scene are portraits of specific officers. Trumbull planned this outdoor scene to contrast with the Declaration of Independence beside it.
John Trumbull (1756–1843) was born in Connecticut, the son of the governor. After graduating from Harvard University, he served in the Continental Army under General Washington. He studied painting with Benjamin West in London and focused on history painting.

A full key is available here.

The dimensions of this oil painting on canvas are 365.76 cm by 548.64 cm (144.00 in by 216.00 in).
Richard butler.jpg
Richard Butler (1743-1791)
General George Washington at Trenton by John Trumbull.jpeg
General George Washington at Trenton on the night of January 2, 1777, after the Battle of the Assunpink Creek, also known as the Second Battle of Trenton, and before the Battle of Princeton.
Sarah Trumbull with a Spaniel by John Trumbull.jpeg
"Sarah Trumbull with a Spaniel," oil on canvas, by the American artist John Trumbull. 30 3/16 in. x 25 3/16 in. x 1 in. Yale University Art Gallery, gift of Marshall H. Clyde, Jr. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
Self Portrait by John Trumbull circa 1802.jpeg
"Self-Portrait," oil on canvas, by the American painter John Trumbull. 29 3/4 in. x 24 9/16 in. Yale University Art Gallery, gift of Marshall H. Clyde, Jr. Courtesy of Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
John Trumbull Gilbert Stuart 1818.jpeg
"John Trumbull". Courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery.
Hamilton Trumbull 1792.jpg
Full-length portrait of Alexander Hamilton by John Trumbull, oil on canvas, 1792. Donated by Credit Suisse to both the Met and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2013, which will take turns displaying it (see NYT article, 14. March 2014)
John Trumbull-6c.jpg
General George Washington Resigning his Commission.jpg

General George Washington Resigning His Commission: depicts George Washington's resignation as commander-in-chief of the Army to the Congress, which was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis, on December 23, 1783. This action was of great significance in establishing civilian, rather than military rule, leading to a republic, rather than a dictatorship. Washington stands with two aides-de-camp addressing the president of the Congress, Thomas Mifflin, and others, such as Elbridge Gerry, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. Mrs. Washington and her three grandchildren are shown watching from the gallery, although they were not in fact present at the event.

John Trumbull (1756–1843) was born in Connecticut, the son of the governor. After graduating from Harvard University, he served in the Continental Army under General Washington. He studied painting with Benjamin West in London and focused on history painting.

This oil painting on canvas is now located in the United States Capitol rotunda in Washington D.C. Its dimensions are 365.76 cm × 548.64 cm (144.00 in × 216.00 in).