American soldier, diplomat, author, and painter John Trumbull was born on June 6, 1756, in Lebanon, Connecticut. Trumbull is best known for his historical paintings depicting the Revolutionary War that adorn the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. His portraits of presidents Washington, Adams, and Jefferson are also renowned.
Trumbull, son of Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, served as an aide to General George Washington during the Revolution and rose to the rank of colonel. After the war, he studied painting in London with Benjamin West. In about 1784, with encouragement from West and Thomas Jefferson, he began the series of historical paintings and engravings he worked on intermittently for the rest of his life.
In Trumbull’s day, artists created engravings of their paintings that could be reproduced for sale. In 1791, Washington wrote to Lafayette encouraging him to purchase Trumbull’s work, which he praised:
His pieces, as far as they are executed, meet the warm applause of all who have seen them. The greatness of the design, and the masterly execution of the Work equally interest the man of a capacious mind and the approving eye of the Connoisseur. He has spared no pains in obtaining from the life the likenesses of those characters, French as well as American, who bore a conspicuous part in our Revolution; and the success with which his efforts have been crowned will form no small part of the value of his pieces.
Letter from George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette, November 21, 1791. Series 2, Letterbooks 1754-1799: Letterbook 18, Sept. 9, 1791-March 30, 1794. George Washington Papers. Manuscript Division
In 1817, Congress commissioned Trumbull to paint a series of four paintings in the rotunda of the Capitol: Washington Resigning His Commission, The Surrender of Cornwallis, The Surrender of Burgoyne, and, best known of all, The Declaration of Independence. These paintings, completed in 1824, were larger-scale versions of scenes Trumbull had painted in the 1780s and 1790s.
- Search on John Trumbull in the pictorial collections for images by and of Trumbull.
- Read about John Trumbull’s four large history paintings for the Capitol Rotunda on the website of the Architect of the Capitol: they are Declaration of Independence, Surrender of General Burgoyne, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and General George Washington Resigning His Commission to Congress.
- Trumbull maintained a friendship and correspondence with George Washington. Search on John Trumbull in the George Washington Papers.
- Also read correspondence between Trumbull and presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Search on John Trumbull in Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827 and James Madison Papers, 1723 to 1859.
- See more photographs of the art displayed in the United States Capitol. Search on Capitol paintings in the Horydczak Collection. See, for example, the Surrender of General Bourgogne.