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

The Capture of the Hessians at Trenton, December 26, 1776

1786–1828

Oil on canvas

20 1/8 × 30 in. (51.1 × 76.2 cm)
Trumbull Collection
1832.5

I composed the picture, for the express purpose of giving a lesson to all living and future soldiers in the service of their country, to show mercy and kindness to a fallen enemy—their enemy no longer when wounded and in their power. —John Trumbull

On the night of December 25, 1776, General George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River at Trenton, New Jersey, launching a surprise attack against the Hessians, German mercenaries hired to fight on behalf of the British Empire. The Germans, caught off-guard on the morning after Christmas celebrations, were defeated after only forty-five minutes. Hessian Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall was mortally wounded. On horseback, General Washington directs Major William Stephens Smith to care for the dying Rall. Anxious to secure Washington’s likeness for this scene as well as for his paintings of the battles of Princeton, New Jersey, and Yorktown, Virginia, Trumbull persuaded him to pose for several sittings, with the general even exercising on horseback at the artist’s request.
Geography: 
Depicted Trenton, New Jersey
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
American
Period: 
18th–19th century
Classification: 
Paintings
Provenance: 

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

Bibliography: 

Christie’s, New York, George Washington at Princeton: From the Collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, sale cat. (2006), 12, ill.

Army History: The Professional Bulletin of Army History No. 62 (Winter 2006): Cover and page 4, no. No. 62, ill.

Dennis P. Ryan, New Jersey in the American Revolution (Trenton, N.J.: New Jersey Historical Commission, 1975), 72, fig. plate 5.

David McCullough, 1776 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), 212-213, Front cover, 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), 26, 88–89, 98, no. 34, ill.

John Ferling, The Ascent of George Washington:The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009), unpag., ill.

Helen A. Cooper et al., John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1982), 74, pl. 24.

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.