It was natural, and even inevitable, that the Yale University Art Gallery chose to organize an exhibition devoted to the work of John Trumbull to celebrate the Gallery’s 150th anniversary. The oldest college art museum in America, the Gallery was founded when Trumbull gave a group of his portraits and his scenes of the American Revolution to Yale in return for an annuity of $1000 a year and a promise that Yale would construct a suitable building, designed by the artist, to house the collection. On October 25, 1832, the Trumbull Gallery—built in Greek Revival style on Yale’s Old Campus—was opened to the public. Trumbull continued to add to his original gift, in some cases actually painting certain elevated subjects because he felt the Gallery, as part of a teaching institution, needed to have them represented. In the years since Trumbull’s death in 1843, some of his descendents and other donors have generously given Trumbull works to the University. Today, Yale has the largest collection of Trumbull objects, as well as Trumbull family manuscripts and archival material.
Trumbull’s original deed of gift included the restriction that the paintings could never leave Yale’s campus. Since without these paintings no other institution could mount a comprehensive Trumbull exhibition, it became clear that only by organizing such a show at Yale could a full and meaningful appraisal of Trumbull’s artistic achievement be possible. Because individuals and institutions responded generously to our loan requests, the full range of Trumbull’s artistic interests can be seen for the first time in the context of his most important paintings.
Helen Cooper, Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, chose the objects and prepared this catalogue. In the best tradition of university museums, John Trumbull: The Hand and Spirit of a Painter was a collaborative effort, involving faculty and graduate students from the Departments of the History of Art, American Studies, and English, as well as the staff of the American Arts Office in the Art Gallery. In addition, several distinguished scholars from other institutions contributed essays to the catalogue. In the preface, Helen Cooper expresses gratitude to all those who were involved in this major undertaking. It remains for me to thank the sponsors of this exhibition, listed on p. vii, for their generous support. In these days of fiscal austerity and diminishing sources of funds for the arts, their warm response was critical to the realization of this project. We are also grateful to Mr. and Mrs. George Hopper Fitch, Marshall Hill Clyde, Jr., and the Wyeth Endowment for American Art, who contributed funds toward the conservation and restoration of several of the Trumbull paintings. Finally, we are grateful to the individuals and institutions which have been willing to part with their objects for the duration of the exhibition.
John Trumbull once referred to his paintings as his “children.” It seems fitting that on the sesquicentennial of his gift to Yale, so many of them have been reunited.
—Alan Shestack, Director