The Painter of The Revolution
John Trumbull is an American artist who is known for the historical paintings he made of the Revolutionary War. He’s also aptly known as ‘The Painter of The Revolution‘.
His parents were Jonathan and Faith (née Robinson) Trumbull, who married in 1756 in Lebanon, Connecticut. His father was the Governor of Connecticut from 1769 to 1784. Their ancestors were early Puritan settlers in the state on both sides of their families.
John Trumbull had 2 elder brothers, Joseph and Jonathan, who both played an important role in the Revolutionary War.
Joseph was the first commissary general of the Continental Army during the war. Jonathan Jr. was a Speaker of the House of Representatives for 13 years and also Governor for 4 years.
At the age of fifteen, Trumbull enrolled in Harvard College’s junior class in 1771 and graduated in 1773. Trumbull lost one eye as a result of a childhood injury. His meticulous painting style may have been influenced by this.
Trumbull distinguished himself as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War by producing designs of the British and American lines and fortifications in Boston.
He was also present at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
In June 1776, he was named deputy adjutant-general to General Horatio Gates, and second aide-de-camp to General George Washington. After a disagreement over the date of his officer commission, he withdrew from the army in 1777.
Major John André, a British agent, was caught by Continental troops in North America on September 23, 1780, and hanged as a spy on October 2, 1780. When word reached Great Britain, indignation erupted, and Trumbull, a Continental Army officer of similar rank to André, was jailed for high treason.
Trumbull was detained in the Tothill Fields Bridewell in London for seven months.
Trumbull was released and embarked on a six-month journey back to the United States, which ended in late January 1782. During the winter of 1782–83, he joined his brother David in supplying the soldiers stationed at New Windsor, New York.
Trumbull produced several paintings dedicated to the Revolution:
Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill (one version is held by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
Washington at Verplanck’s Point, a 1790 gift to Martha Washington
The Sortie Made by the Garrison of Gibraltar, 1789. This was once owned by the Boston Athenaeum and is now held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
During his middle years, Trumbull painted many portraits. One example of Trumbull’s work would be his portrait of George Clinton, 1739, now held in New York City Hall. The portrait was commissioned by Mayor Richard Varick.
George Clinton, 1739, George Clinton (1739-1812) was a soldier, and first governor of New York, serving from 1777 to 1795.
Furthermore, New York also bought Trumbull’s portraits of Alexander Hamilton (1805) and John Jay. The face of Hamilton can be seen on the US $10 bill.
Trumbull was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1791. He became a member of the American Society of Independence in 1814.
Trumbull has a long and rich history with the arts and law. He resides in New York City and served as president of the American Academy of the Fine Arts. His traditional approach to classical art sometimes clashed with his students.
It was during this period Trumbull’s painting skills significantly waned. In 1825 many disgruntled students quit to then found the National Academy of Design.
The Academy was unable to adapt to changing tastes, and later in 1839, after a second fire destroyed its collections, The American Academy of Fine Arts closed its doors.
Trumbull later endured a difficult period trying to sell his paintings. He then became successful when in 1831 he sold several paintings, including miniature portraits of George Washington, to Yale University for an annuity that was worth $1,000.
After many years of struggling to sustain himself through his art, he finally found a way to gain enough revenue from it.
Yale has the largest collection of Trumbull’s work. The collection was exhibited alongside other artists’ portraits in an art gallery designed by Trumbull on Yale’s Old Campus.
John Trumbull dedicated his life to the preservation of national heritage, painting portraits of American historical figures, and producing paintings on contemporary and classical themes. In 1841, he published his autobiography.
John Trumbull, The Painter of The Revolution, died in the year 1843 at the age of 87 and is buried in New York City.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE by John Trumbull painted during 1817-1819