Remembering the Revolution

Connecticut artist John Trumbull was an old man when he produced his iconic painting showing the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Trumbull was born in Lebanon, Connecticut in 1756 and was the son of Connecticut’s governor Jonathan Trumbull.  Young Trumbull served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War from 1776 to 1777, part of that time as a personal aide to George Washington. He therefore knew many of the men in his famous painting. The original painting, completed in 1818, hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. A smaller version was one of the main attractions at the Wadsworth Atheneum, when it opened in 1844. Located in Hartford, Connecticut, the Wadsworth Atheneum was America’s first public art museum. The Kellogg brothers’ lithography business was located right across the street. It’s tempting to think that they might have based their 1845 lithograph directly on Trumbull’s painting. I like to imagine the print prominently on view in the window of their shop on Main Street.

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6 thoughts on “Remembering the Revolution

  1. That is not “The Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” It is simply called “The Declaration of Independence.” It represents the committee that drafted the report submitting it to Congress for consideration. The Declaration was not signed until August 2. The original painting is in the Yale University Art Gallery. The Rotunda in the Capitol is the second version. The half-life-size painting in the Wadsworth Atheneum was actually painted in 1832. Trumbull was making arrangements with Yale to give his paintings to the college in return for an annuity. Daniel Wadsworth proposed funding a second Trumbull gallery in Hartford. This plan fell through. The paintings John Trumbull had prepared for the Hartford gallery were purchased in 1844 by Daniel Wadsworth from Trumbull’s estate and installed in the new Atheneum. Note also that Trumbull spent only 19 days on Washington’s staff as an aide. See “John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter” by Helen A. Cooper (New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982) for a short but complete chronology of his life, pages 2-19. and see the “Declaration” references in the index, page 290.

    • Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history painters were not overly concerned with historical accuracy. Most history paintings of this period (and the prints that were inevitably based on them) were intended as iconic representations of events as they should have appeared, not exact reconstructions of what actually happened (think Battle of Bunker Hill, Washington Crossing the Delaware). These artists created a powerful American iconography that continues to haunt us today. Whatever Trumbull himself may have intended or subsequent art historical scholarship may have determined, his image of the Declaration of Independence came to represent the signing of that historic document for generations of Americans.

  2. Pingback: New England Historical Society History Brief - 7.3.2013 : New England Historical Society

  3. Pingback: Signing the Declaration of Independence, John Turnbull : New England Historical Society

    • I don’t understand your question. There is no reference to an anti-slavery clause in the post “Remembering the Revolution,” which deals strictly with John Trumbull’s painting of the event and not with the document itself–which, of course, did not include an anti-slavery clause.

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