JOHN TRUMBULL (1756-1843)
JOHN TRUMBULL (1756-1843)
JOHN TRUMBULL (1756-1843)
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JOHN TRUMBULL (1756-1843)
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JOHN TRUMBULL (1756-1843)

George Washington

Details
JOHN TRUMBULL (1756-1843)
George Washington
oil on canvas
30 x 24 in. (76.2 x 60.9 cm.)
Painted circa 1793.
Provenance
The artist.
Governor Oliver Wolcott, Jr., Connecticut, acquired from the above, by 1829.
Dr. John Stoughton Wolcott, Litchfield, Connecticut, son of the above, by descent, 1833.
Estate of the above.
William Jay, New York, acquired from the above, 1844.
Honorable John Jay II, New York, 1858.
Colonel William Jay, New York, 1894.
Mrs. Arthur Iselin, Katonah, New York, 1915.
William Jay Iselin, 1953.
Christie's, New York, 25 January 1986, lot 234, sold by the above.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York, acquired from the above.
Private collection, Missouri, acquired from the above, 1988.
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Christie's, New York, 23 May 2013, lot 47, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
Literature
G.C. Woodruff, letter to Secretary of the Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut, February 15, 1844.
G.C. Woodruff, letter to Charles Hosmer, Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, Connecticut, March 13, 1844.
T. Sizer, The Works of Colonel John Trumbull: Artist of the American Revolution, New Haven, Connecticut, 1950, p. 64.
T. Sizer, The Works of Colonel John Trumbull: Artist of the American Revolution, New Haven, Connecticut, 1967, p. 83.
E.G. Miles, American Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, Washington, D.C., 1995, pp. 304, 306.
T. Stebbins, M. Renn, American Paintings at Harvard, vol. 1, New Haven, Connecticut, 2008, pp. 476-78.
Exhibited

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

John Trumbull painted only three known lifetime bust-length portraits of George Washington: the present example and those in the collections of Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. These bust-length 'civilian type' portraits, designated by Trumbull scholar Theodore Sizer, depict Washington in a black jacket and ruffled white collar—the costume chosen for formal state occasions during his presidency. Painted around 1793, this portrait captures the nation’s first president at the beginning of his second term after he was unanimously re-elected by the Electoral College. Having served as the general’s aide-de-camp during the Revolutionary War, Trumbull was one of the few artists granted access to Washington to sit for lifetime portraits. Given the artist’s personal connection to and profound understanding of his sitter’s character, Trumbull's sympathetic yet dignified portrayals of Washington as president, general and civilian are considered to be among the most authentic portraits of the American icon.

Trumbull referred to Washington as “my early master and friend” (Trumbull’s will, December 19, 1842, Probate Court, New Haven, Connecticut). Indeed, in his early years after graduation from Harvard University, Trumbull joined the Continental Army in 1775 as Washington’s aide-de-camp. In 1780, the artist went to London to study with Benjamin West, who encouraged Trumbull to paint depictions of the events of the American Revolution. Trumbull began his portrayals of the war and its heroes with history paintings, including The Battle of Bunkers Hill (1786, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), and small studies for larger paintings, such as The Declaration of Independence (1786–1820, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut). These commemorative and nationalistic renderings boosted Trumbull’s reputation and led to subscriptions for engravings, portrait commissions and, significantly, a commission in 1817 by the U.S. Congress to paint four monumental Revolutionary-era scenes for the Capitol Building rotunda.

Washington himself became a staunch supporter of Trumbull’s historical work and collected at least two of his engravings. He wrote to fellow Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette:

“My dear Sir, Mr. John Trumbull, with whom you are acquainted, is engaged in painting a series of pictures of the most important events of the Revolution in this country, from which he proposes to have plates engraved. I have taken peculiar satisfaction in giving every proper aid in my power, to a subscription here supporting this work, which likewise has been patronized by the principal people in this country…His pieces, so far as they are executed, meet the applause of all who have seen them; the greatness of the design, and the masterly execution of the work, equally interest the man of capacious mind, as the approving eye of the connoisseur…I believe that in his profession he will do much honor to the liberal art of painting, as well as to this his native country.” (as quoted in I.B. Jaffe, John Trumbull: Patriot-Artist of the American Revolution, Boston, Massachusetts, 1975, pp. 151, 53)

In addition to their long friendship, it was this mutual admiration that led to an invitation for Trumbull to dine at Washington’s New York home in January 1790. Shortly thereafter, the President agreed to sit for the artist for the first time the very next month and continued for several sessions a week through March. In July, the president sat for a small full-length portrait that Trumbull painted as a gift for Mrs. Washington as a thank you for the couple’s kindness, which hung at Mount Vernon and is now in the collection of The Winterthur Museum in New Castle County, Delaware. During these sittings, Trumbull studied the president’s likeness for forthcoming history paintings and portraits such as the full-length General George Washington at Trenton (1792, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut).

Trumbull’s renown as an important documentarian of early American history helped to create the extraordinary cult of Washington extant both in Washington's lifetime and well after his death in 1799. The year after completing General George Washington at Trenton, Trumbull painted the first bust-length portrait in 1793, which has been in Yale’s collection ever since. Shortly after, Apothecary General of the Continental Army Andrew Craigie commissioned the artist to paint another, which was gifted to Harvard University where it is still housed today. The present work, the third and final known version, was purchased by Oliver Walcott who was Alexander Hamilton’s successor as Secretary of the Treasury. Adding to his collection of notable Revolutionary-era figures, Walcott wrote that he owned, “portraits of Washington, Adams, Jay, Hamilton and Robert Morris, which I value as memorials of great and good men who were my friends.” (Oliver Walcott, letter to Dr. John R. Rhinelander, Hartford, Connecticut, March 12, 1829) After descending through the Wolcott family, the present work was owned by the family of Chief Justice John Jay, known for being the key negotiator at the Treaty of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War.

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