American Paintings and Sculpture
PrevNext1 of 2
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 2
Key for figures in painting
Artist: John Trumbull, American, 1756–1843

The Battle of Bunker’s Hill, June 17, 1775

1786

Oil on canvas

25 5/8 × 37 5/8 in. (65.1 × 95.6 cm)
Trumbull Collection
1832.1

Trumbull began the Revolutionary War series with Bunker’s Hill to commemorate the battle he considered to be the earliest important event in the war. His focus here is not on the outcome of the encounter at Bunker’s Hill but on the noble behavior of the participants. Set under a blackening smoke-filled sky and against a chaotic background of dead and dying men, he depicts the climactic moment when American Major General Joseph Warren is mortally wounded by a musket ball just as the British successfully press beyond American lines. Seizing the bayonet of a grenadier who means to avenge a fallen officer, British Major John Small saves the expiring Warren from being stabbed. The expressions on the faces of the surrounding American soldiers and the two departing figures at right, Lieutenant Thomas Grosvenor and his black servant, combine concern for the dying Warren and astonishment at the magnanimity of Small. By emphasizing this act of humanity by the enemy, Trumbull honors morality that transcends national boundaries.

Geography: 
Depicted Bunker Hill, Charlestown, Boston, Massachusetts
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
18th century
Classification: 
Paintings
Provenance: 

Trumbull Collection, to 1832; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Bibliography: 

Gary B. Nash, The Forgotten Fifth: African Americans in the Age of Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977), jacket cover, ill.

Herbert Lacymayer, Mozart Experiment Aufkla¨rung im Wien des ausgehenden 18. Jahrhunderts (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2006), 278, fig. 4.

David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 22-23, 231, ill.

Timothy Keesee and Mark Sidwell, United States History, Third Edition (Greenville, S.C.: BJU Press, 2001), 105, ill.

Abigail Adams and John Adams, My Dearest Friend (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), ill.

Angela Miller et al., American Encounters: Art, History, and Cultural Identity (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2008), 140, fig. 5.4.

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), 1, 25, 66, 82–83, no. 31, ill.

Holger Hoock, Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War, and the Arts in the British World, 1750–1850 (London: Profile Books, 2010), n.p., fig. IX.

Art for Yale: Collecting for a New Century, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2007), 354, fig. 1.

Susan B. Matheson, Art for Yale: A History of the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2001), 16, 18, fig. 13.

Jennifer Greenhill, Playing It Straight: Art and Humor in the Gilded Age (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 95, fig. 56.

Helen A. Cooper et al., John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), 10,36, 49, fig. 17.

Arthur S. Lefkowitz, Eyewitness Images from the American Revolution (Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company, 2017), 77, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.