John Trumbull, a colonel in the Revolutionary War, was the son of a distinguished scholar and governor of the state of Connecticut during the revolution. In the war, Trumbull used his skills as a draftsman by drawing plans of various works in which the army was interested. After his time in the army, Trumbull went to Europe to continue his studies of painting. Beginning in 1783, he studied day and night with Benjamin West in London. Under the tutelage of West and John S. Copley he devoted himself to art as a profession (National Cyclopedia 334).
Later, Trumbull would be considered the painter of the Revolution. In his early works, he painted subjects from Greek and Roman history, but he soon abandoned these in favor of contemporary history. His first such works were "Death of General Montgomery" and "Battle of Bunker's Hill;" these were painted in West's studio under West's direction in the spring of 1786. Trumbull was encouraged by these works, and by certain publications, and he embarked on a plan of publishing engravings after the paintings.
Trumbull proceeded to Paris in 1785 in search of suitable engravers; Thomas Jefferson encouraged him to continue in his intended program. He spent three more years in England. Stimulated by travel and broadened by study, these were the most creative years of his life. His small painting of "Declaration of Independence" was started at this time, and took eight years to complete. It remains one of the most important visual records of the heroic period of American history, though it is not accurate in every detail. Twelve of the 48 portraits were from memory; some of those included were not signers, and some signers were omitted (Dictionary of American Biography 12-13).
Trumbull has been considered the first truly American history painter. His works are seen as graphic, well-designed compositions without exaggeration. In his later years Trumbull underscored his service ...