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American Paintings and Sculpture
Artist: John Trumbull, American, 1756–1843
Subject: George Wythe, American, 1726–1806
Subject: William Whipple Jr., American, 1731–1785

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776


Oil on canvas

20 7/8 × 31 in. (53 × 78.7 cm)
Trumbull Collection

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.

Depicted Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
On view
18th–19th century

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


Helen A. Cooper et al., John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), 1, 77, pl. 25, fig. 1.

Alan Shestack, ed., Yale University Art Gallery Selections (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1983), 50–51, 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.

David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 130-131, ill.

Herbert Lacymayer, Mozart Experiment Aufkla¨rung im Wien des ausgehenden 18. Jahrhunderts (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2006), 281, fig. 7.

David Preston, James Monroe, exh. cat. (Fredericksburg, Va.: University of Mary Washington, 2008), 16, ill.

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, 25–26, 66, 80, 86–87, 94, 96, 219, no. 33, ill.

Christopher Hibbert, Redcoats and Rebels (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Military, 2008), ill.

Jerry Bentley, Traditions and Encounters, Fourth (Boston: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 2008), 785, 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.

Tanya Pohrt, “Reception and Meaning in John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2013): 117–18, fig. 2.

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.