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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, December 22, 1929, Image 95

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1929-12-22/ed-1/seq-95/

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Americas Four Most Famous Paintings
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“Signing tho Declaration of hulepenitence," painted by John Trumbull.
D °ne hy John Trumbull and Placed in Position in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol
105 Years Ago , the Historic Canvases Depicting the Signing of The Declaration of
Independence , The Resignation of General Washington , The Surrender of Burgoyne,
and The Surrender of Cornwallis , Have Won World-Wide Acclaim.
BY //. O. BISHOP.
JTIRr.E are four paintings In the rotunda
of the United States Capitol that hav«
probably been seen by more people
than any other paintings in thi3
country.
These pictures are known as: The Signing of
the Declaration of Independence, The Resigna
tion of Gen. Washington, The Surrender of Bur
goyne and The Surrender of Cornwallis.
More than a century ago an arttst by the
name of John Trumbull, who had b:en a soldier
in the Revolutionary War, was commissioned by
Congress to paint these pictures. They were
completed and placed in position in 1824. Dur
ing the Intervening 105 years they have beet:
viewed daily by people in all walk! of life from
all sections of the country and the world.
'J'RUMBULL began his negotiations with Con
gress in December, 1816. The story of the
deliberations of that body and his conferences
with the President are thus recorded by Trum
bull in his autobiography:
“Several gentlemen, particularly Mr. Timothy
Pitkin of the House of Representatives, weie
zealous to see my plan executed in its full ex
tent. Some of the studies were put up in the
hall of the House; and in one of the debates ou
the subject Mr. John Randolph was ardently
eloquent in his commendation of the work and
insisted that I should be employed to execute
the whole. The result was that a resolution
finally passed both houses giving authority to
the President to employ me ‘to compose and
execute four paintings commemorative of the
most important events of th* American Revo
lution, to be placed, when finished, in the Capi
tol of the United Spates.’
“The choice of the subjects and the size of
each picture was left to the President, Mr.
Madison. I immediately waited upon the Presi
dent to receive his orders.. The size was first
THE SUNDAY STAR. WASHINGTON, D. C., DECEMBER 22. 1029.
discussed. I proposed that they bo 6 feet high
by 9 long, which would give to the figures half
the size of life. The President at once over
ruled me. ‘Consider, sir,- said he, ‘the vast size
of the apartment In which th.se Works are to
be placed—the rotunda. 100 feet in dinmeter
and the same in height— paintings of the size
which you propose will be lost in such a space:
they must be of dimensions to admit the figures
to be of the size of life.'
1 his was so settled, and when we came to
speak of the subjects the President first men
tioned the Battle of Bunker Hill. Observing me
to be silent Mr. Madison asked if I did not ap
prove that. My reply was, -That if the order
had been fas I had hoped) for eight paintings 1
should have named that first, but as there were
only four commanded I thought o herwise. It
appeared to me that there were two military
subjects paramount to all ethers. We had ir
the course of the Revolution made prisoners of
two entire armies, a circums'ance almost with
out parallel, and of course the surrender of
Gen. Burgoyne at Saratoga and that of Lord
Cornwallis at Yorktown seemed to me indis
pensable." ‘True.’ he replied, you are right",
and what for the civil subjects?’ ’The Declara
tion of Independence, of course.' ‘What would
you have the fourth?’ ‘Sir,’ I replied, -I ha\e
thought that one of the highest moral lessons
ever given to the world was that presented by
the conduct of the commander-in-chief in re
signing his power and commission as he did
when the Army perhaps would have been
unanimously witli him and few of the people
disposed to resist his retaining the power which
lie had used with such happy success and such
irreproachable moderation. I would recommend,
then, the Resignation of Washington.’ After a
momentary silent reflection the President said.
"I believe you are right; it was a glorious action
The price was settled at SB,OOO for each paint
ing. and as soon as the new administration was
formed under Mr. Monroe the Secretary of State
was charged to prepare a contract on thes>
principles, which was done.”
'J'HE idea of painting these pictures was not a
sudden inspiration on the part of Trumbull.
He hod spent many years traveling in Europe
snd America securing sittings from the nu
merous men whose faces and figures were to
appear in these great productions. He had pre
pared small canvases long before securing the
contract for the large pictures from Congress.
In the case of the Declaration of Independ
ence. Trumbull went to Paris in 1787 to get the
advice of Jefferson, who was there as the Ameri
can representative. The painting was planned
in Jefferson's home and it was there that Jef
ferson s portrait was painted on the small can
vas. The artist found John Adams in London
and painted h!s portrait there. He related this
incident in a letter: “In the course of the Sum
mer oi 1787 Mr. Adams took leave of the Court
of St James and preparatory to the voyage to
America had the powder combed out of his hair.
Its color and na'ural curl were beautiful, and I
tooK that opportunity to paint his portrait in
the small Declaration of Independence.”
John Hancock and Samuel Adams were
painted in Boston and Edward Rutledge in
Chari eaten, S. C. The painting shows the
rooms in Independence Hall, Philadelphia
where *he signing took place. John Hancock is
shown at the table and the committee that
drafted the Declaration—Franklin, Jefferson.
Adams, Livingston and Sherman—stand in
front of him. The painting naturally recalls
the words of John Adams: “I am well aware of
the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost
us to maintain this Declaration and support
and defend these States. Yet. through all this
glocm I can see the rays oi ravishing light and
glory.”
’J"HE Surrender of Burgoyne, according to
Trumbull, represent* Burgoyne, attended b>
Gen. Phillips and followed by o’her officers, ar
riving near the marquee of Gen. Gates. Gen.
Gates had advanced a few steps from the en
trance to meet his prisoner, who, with Gen
Phillips, lias dismounted and is in the act of
offering Iris sword, which Qen. Gates declines to
receive, and invites them to enter. A Brftfch
writer gives this description of Burgoyne's sur
render: "Gen. Oates, rvivised of Burgoyne's ap
proach. met him at the head of his camp. Bur
goyne in a rich royal uniform and Gates in
plain blue frock. When they approached
within sword's lengrh they reined up and halted.
Oen. Burgoyne. raising his hat most gracefully
said. 'The fortunes of war, Gen. Gates have’
made me your prisoner.' to which the conqueror,
returning a courtly salute, promptly replied 'I
shall always be ready to bear testimony that it
has not been through any fault of your excel
lency. ”
JN The Surrender of Cornwallis, Gen. Lincoln,
on horseback, is shown conducting the de
feated army between the two lines of the victor*.
Trumbull visited Yorktown to study the actual
scene of surrender. The French officers were
painted from life at Jefferson's house in Paris.
In a letter from London Trumbull describes r.is
difficulties concerning this painting: "I made
various studies for The Surrender of Lord Corn
wallis and In this found great difficulty; ttoe
scene was altogether one of utter formality—
the ground was level—military etiquette was to
be scrupulously observed and'yet the portraits
of the principal officers of three proud nations
must oe preserved without interrupting the
general regularity of the scene. I drew it over
and over again and at last, having resolved upon
the present arrangement. I prepared the small
picture to receive the portraits.”
Dr. Thatcher, in his military journal, gives us
a vivid description of the surrender of Corn
wallis: "At about 12 o’clock the combined Army
was drawn up into two lines more than a mile
In length, the Americans on the right side of
the road, the French on their left.
mounted on a noble steed and attended by hte
staff, was in front of the former; the Count de
Rochnmbeau and his suite In front of the latter
The French troops, tn complete uniform and
Continued on Twenty-first Page
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