The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Oil on canvas
Greatly impressed with John Trumbull’s plans to execute a series of American history paintings, Thomas Jefferson invited the artist to stay with him in Paris. There, Trumbull wrote, “I began the composition of the Declaration of Independence, with the assistance of [Jefferson’s] information and advice.” Trumbull represents the moment when the committee appointed to draw up the document submitted Jefferson’s draft for the consideration of the Continental Congress. Conscious of creating an image for succeeding generations, Trumbull made the whole committee—John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—present the document to John Hancock, rather than Jefferson alone, which would have been historically accurate. He consulted Adams and Jefferson about who should actually be in the scene. They urged that all the delegates be included, even those who were not present or those who had opposed the Declaration and did not sign. The goal was to preserve the exact likenesses of those extraordinary individuals—aristocrats, lawyers, doctors, farmers, shopkeepers—who had put their lives and fortunes on the line. Trumbull worked on the Declaration for more than three decades, hoping to include all fifty-six figures, but he was unable to obtain all the likenesses. Of the forty-eight portraits here, thirty-six were taken from life; others were copied from an existing portrait or taken of a son as a substitute.
Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983), 5051, ill.
Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 10 (detail), 13, fig. 10.
Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 2, 2526, 66, 80, 8687, 94, 96, 219, no. 33, ill.
Eleanor Phillips Brackbill, An Uncommon Cape: Researching the Histories and Mysteries of a Property (Albany: State University of New York, 2012), 96, fig. fig. 6.3.
“Reception and Meaning in John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2013): 11718, fig. 2.