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John Trumbull ( 1756 - 1843 )  Category ( Painters ) [suggest a correction]
 

John Trumball's Declaration of IndependenceJohn Trumbull was an American artist who was born at the right time, into the right circumstances, and with the talent that would position him to become an artistic icon of the American Revolutionary period. His emphasis on the grand manner, historical painting style led to numerous commisions, including his famous "Declaration of Independence," which hangs in many Federal and state buildings, as well as appearing on the reverse of the two-dollar U.S. note.

Trumbull was born in Connecticut to a prominent family. His father, Jonathan Trumbull, served as governor of Conneticut during John's childhood. When young Trumbull was a child he was involved in an accident that resulted in the loss of vision in one of his eyes. Art historians often attribute his vision loss as a contributing factor to Trumbull's famed attention to detail. He attended Harvard University during his mid-teens, graduating in 1773. A few years later he volunteered to fight in the Revolutionary War. His artistic talents were quickly noticed and he made a number of battlefield sketches. He came to the attention of General George Washington, who appointed Trumbull as a personal aide. Later he served General Horatio Gates in a similar capacity, but by 1777 he had tired of military life and resigned.

Trumbull's art continued to be his greatest interest. In 1780 he went to London, where he met and studied under Benjamin West. West pointed out the timely opportunity for historical painting and portraiture, and he influenced Trumbull to pursue the genre. Traveling to England during the midst of hostilities was a dangerous risk. At some point during 1780, Trumbull was seized and imprisoned for seven months as retribution for the capture and hanging of a British spy in America. Following his release, Trumbull returned home to Conneticut. Less than four years later he returned to work with West, continuing to focus on his grand manner paintings of the American Revolution. A year later he traveled to Paris, where, under the assistance of Thomas Jefferson, he began the "Declaration of Independence." This painting was famously viewed some years later by President John Adams, who remarked that while Trumbull had captured the spirit of the moment, the painting was rife with inaccuracies.

Trumbull actually painted Adams' portrait some years later, as well as those of John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, George and Martha Washington, and others. In his later years, he was appointed president of the American Academy of Fine Arts. He served for nine years, during which he encountered much strife with the students. In 1841 he published his autobiography. He died two years later at the age of eighty-eight.

Image: John Trumbull's "Declaration of Independence," commissioned 1817; purchased 1819; placed 1826 in the Rotunda.


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