Saturday, July 4, 2009
Let's celebrate Independence Day with one of the most iconic of all American artworks: "The Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull. There are actually two versions of this painting: a 12x18 foot version (pictured--click image to enlarge) in the Rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington, and a smaller version that hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery along with other paintings and drawings bequeathed to the university by Trumbull. Even in its day, this was a celebrated picture, its popularity spread through engravings done by artist Asher Durand in cooperation with Trumbull.
John Trumbull is an interesting figure. He was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, a witness to the Battle of Bunker Hill, and after the war he traveled to England to further his artistic education with painter Benjamin West. (In those days, England was still the place for American artists to study.) The initial "Declaration of Independence" painting (the Yale version) was begun with none other than Thomas Jefferson as a historical consultant and with many of the figures posed from life. The fame of the painting led to the commission of the larger version for the Capitol in 1816. Trumbull painted many other scenes associated with the Revolutionary War, including images of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and portraits of notable political figures, among them George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.
The truly amazing part? Trumbull lost the use of one eye in an accident when he was a child, and so painted his pictures half-blind. But he did not let this hinder his drive to create and desire to celebrate the new United States. His achievements are a lesson for us all.