Trumbull's Declaration of Independence

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Declaration of Independence
About 50 men, most of them seated, are in a large meeting room. Most are focused on the five men standing in the center of the room. The tallest of the five is laying a document on a table.
ArtistJohn Trumbull
Yearcommissioned 1817; purchased 1819;
placed 1826 in the Rotunda
TypeOil-on-canvas
Dimensions3.7 m × 5.5 m (12 ft × 18 ft)
LocationU.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., U.S.
 
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Declaration of Independence
About 50 men, most of them seated, are in a large meeting room. Most are focused on the five men standing in the center of the room. The tallest of the five is laying a document on a table.
ArtistJohn Trumbull
Yearcommissioned 1817; purchased 1819;
placed 1826 in the Rotunda
TypeOil-on-canvas
Dimensions3.7 m × 5.5 m (12 ft × 18 ft)
LocationU.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., U.S.

John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence is a 12-by-18-foot oil-on-canvas painting in the United States Capitol Rotunda that depicts the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. It was based on a much smaller version of the same scene, presently held by the Yale University Art Gallery.[1] Trumbull painted many of the figures in the picture from life and visited Independence Hall as well to depict the chamber where the Second Continental Congress met. The oil-on-canvas work was commissioned in 1817, purchased in 1819, and placed in the rotunda in 1826.

The painting is sometimes incorrectly described as the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In fact, the painting actually shows the five-man drafting committee presenting their draft of the Declaration to the Congress, an event that took place on June 28, 1776, and not the signing of the document, which took place later.[2]

The painting shows 42 of the 56 signers of the Declaration; Trumbull originally intended to include all 56 signers, but was unable to obtain likenesses for all of them. He also decided to depict several participants in the debate who did not sign the document, including John Dickinson, who declined to sign. Trumbull also had no portrait of Benjamin Harrison V to work with; son Benjamin Harrison VI was said to have resembled his father, so he was painted instead. Because the Declaration was debated and signed over a period of time when membership in Congress changed, the men in the painting had never all been in the same room at the same time.

Thomas Jefferson seems to be stepping on the foot of John Adams in the painting, which many think is supposed to symbolize their relationship as political enemies. However, upon closer examination of the painting, it can be seen that their feet are merely close together. This part of the image was correctly depicted on the two-dollar bill version.

Unpictured signers[edit]

There were 14 signers of the Declaration who did not appear in the painting:

On the two-dollar bill[edit]

United States two-dollar bill (reverse)

Trumbull's painting is the source of the picture on the reverse of the two-dollar bill, which cuts out the farthest four figures on the left (George Wythe, William Whipple, Josiah Bartlett and Thomas Lynch, Jr.); the farthest two figures on the right (Thomas McKean and Philip Livingston); and seated in the left rear, George Walton. The bill features 40 of the 47 figures from Trumbull's painting. Two other unknown figures are superimposed in the engraving in between Samuel Chase and Lewis Morris and between James Wilson and Francis Hopkinson, bringing the total number of figures on the reverse of the two-dollar bill to 42.

Key to historical figures depicted in the painting[edit]

George WytheWilliam WhippleJosiah BartlettThomas Lynch, Jr.Benjamin HarrisonRichard Henry LeeSamuel AdamsGeorge ClintonWilliam PacaSamuel ChaseLewis MorrisWilliam FloydArthur MiddletonThomas Heyward, Jr.Charles CarrollGeorge WaltonRobert MorrisThomas WillingBenjamin RushElbridge GerryRobert Treat PaineAbraham ClarkStephen HopkinsWilliam ElleryGeorge ClymerWilliam HooperJoseph HewesJames WilsonFrancis HopkinsonJohn AdamsRoger ShermanRobert LivingstonThomas JeffersonBenjamin FranklinRichard StocktonFrancis LewisJohn WitherspoonSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver WolcottCharles ThomsonJohn HancockGeorge ReadJohn DickinsonEdward RutledgeThomas McKeanPhilip Livingston
Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
Mano cursor.svg Clickable image: Point at a face to identify the person, click to go to the corresponding article.
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U.S government's key to the painting

The following key to the figures in the painting follows the numbering used by the U.S. government publication "Art of the Capitol" (in the illustration of the key shown in this section) but provides a different (hopefully clearer) description of which figure is where in the painting, so numbers are not entirely in order.

Key to figures (in each group, listed from left to right):

Four men seated on the far left:

Seated at the table on the left:

Seated together to the right of Harrison and in front of the standing figures:

Five figures standing together on the left:

Three seated figures in the back between the two sets of standing figures:

Set of three figures standing together in the back:

Ten figures seated:

Five figures standing in front:

Four background figures seated together near the right corner of the room:

Two figures standing in the right corner of the room:

Two foreground figures at the central table:

Three figures standing at right:

Two figures seated at far right:

† Not a signer of the (final) Declaration of Independence but depicted in painting.

Similar paintings[edit]

Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

Howard Chandler Christy's Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States is a similar painting depicting members of the Constitutional Convention. Painted in 1940, the work is also located in the U.S. Capitol.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Yale Art Gallery page on painting.
  2. ^ John Hazelton, The Historical Value of Trumbull's - Declaration of Independence, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography - Volume 31, (Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1907), 38.

External links[edit]

Keys to the figures
Other