Past Exhibitions
John Trumbull, The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, 1786–1820. Oil on canvas. Yale University Art Gallery, Trumbull Collection

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery

  • September 7, 2008–January 18, 2009
    The Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Ky.
  • February 26, 2009–May 24, 2009
    Seattle Art Museum, Seattle
  • October 4, 2009–January 10, 2010
    Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Ala.
  • July 29, 2011–July 8, 2012
    Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery draws upon the Gallery’s renowned collection of American paintings, decorative arts, and prints to illuminate the subtle and multivalent nature of the American experience from the time of the settlements of the late 17th century to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The more than 200 works on view include treasures rarely seen outside of New Haven. Among these are John Trumbull’s eight Revolutionary War scenes, including The Declaration of Independence (1786–1820), which have never before left the campus as a group; Winslow Homer’s Morning Bell (1871); and Jeremiah Dummer’s magnificent silver candlesticks (ca. 1686)—the earliest surviving pair of American sticks. The works tell the story of their times, creating a vivid portrait of a young country struggling to invent a people and a nation, and to define itself culturally, politically, and geographically. 

After touring the country for two years, the exhibition returns to New Haven for a three-part presentation. The first installment, We the People (July 29–December 31, 2011), highlights paintings, decorative arts, historic prints, and photographs that create a vivid portrait of a young country as it struggled to define itself geographically, politically, socially, and artistically. 

The second installment, Defining the Nation (January 31–April 8, 2012), returns to colonial times to trace the growth of great wealth that the agrarian economy and transatlantic trade with England, Western Europe, and the Caribbean produced for some Americans. As the nation continued to prosper with the development of industry in the 19th century, the American belief in the importance of education enriched a new generation of young minds, and artisans created objects that celebrated intellectual and artistic achievement.

The third installment, America Rising (May 8–July 8, 2012), looks at the physical and artistic expansion of the United States during the second half of the 19th century. The California gold rush encouraged westward migration, and the development of cross-country systems of communication, new canals, and railroads connected cities and facilitated the trade of goods and ideas. The exhibition concludes in America’s Gilded Age, a period marked by tremendous wealth, blatant political corruption, and extravagant materialism.

The free audio tour for the exhibition, available at the Gallery’s Information Desk, features commentary by Yale professors, including Jules Prown, Jon Butler, and Robert Farris Thompson; and Gallery curators.

Learn more View Related Publication.

Exhibition and publication organized by Helen A. Cooper, the Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, with Robin Jaffee Frank, the former Alice and Allan Kaplan Senior Associate Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture; Elisabeth Hodermarsky, the Sutphin Family Senior Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; and Patricia E. Kane, the Friends of American Arts Curator of American Decorative Arts, all Yale University Art Gallery. Made possible by generous funding from Happy and Bob Doran, B.A. 1955; Carolyn and Gerald Grinstein, B.A. 1954; Mrs. William S. Kilroy, Sr.; Mrs. Frederick R. Mayer; Nancy and Clive Runnells, B.A. 1948; Ellen and Stephen D. Susman, B.A. 1962, for their special support of the audio tour; the Eugénie Prendergast Fund for American Art, given by Jan and Warren Adelson; and the Friends of American Arts at Yale, and supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. Additional support for the presentation at the Yale University Art Gallery provided by Barbara G. and James E. Duffy, B.S. 1951; Laura M. and James A. Duncan, B.A. 1975; Teresa Heinz and the Heinz Family Foundation; Mr. and Mrs. Alexander K. McLanahan, B.A. 1949; Jennifer W. Monsky, B.A. 1981, M.A. 1984, and John Monsky, B.A. 1981; Mr. and Mrs. Oscar L. Tang, B.A. 1960; and the S. Alexander Haverstick II Director’s Resource Fund at the Yale University Art Gallery.

Related Publication