Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth!

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.

Happy Fourth!

1 comment:

M said...

Greetings! I just came across your blog. As a fellow art historian (my emphasis is on the Baroque period), I'm always excited to come an art history blog.

I recently saw this painting (the smaller version owned by Yale) when it was on short-term loan at the Seattle Art Museum. I had no idea that Trumbull lost the use of one eye - obviously that accident did not affect his depth perception and ability to paint. What an interesting factoid.

Anyhow, I'm excited about your blog and plan to visit often. If you like, you can check out my art history blog: