Dig Deeper - Trumbull's "Declaration"

An Educational Visit

Several visitors to Monticello remarked on Thomas Jefferson's willingness to tell of his first-hand experiences in shaping the new country. A copy of Asher B. Durand's engraving of John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, which hung over the fireplace, served this purpose well. Henry C. Thweatt, a student at the University of Virginia who visited the home of its founder, recalled that Jefferson "directed our attention to the different figures in the picture, giving us at the same time a brief outline of the character of each and some very interesting incidents connected with the whole scene."

"Admirable Likenesses"

Engraving after John Trumbull's Declaration of IndependenceAn interesting connection to the painting itself is Jefferson's role in its creation. Not only did Jefferson draft the title document, but he also suggested to Trumbull that the scene be painted. Trumbull started the work at Jefferson's residence in Paris and claimed that "I began the composition of the Declaration of Independence, with the assistance of his [Jefferson's] information and advice." Jefferson also gave the artist a firsthand description and a rough sketch of the Assembly Room. Following Jefferson's initial encouragement, however, work on the painting slowed, since Trumbull tried to paint as many of the signers from life as possible. He did not finish the painting for thirty-three years, but the work was apparently worth the wait for the author of the Declaration, who declared, "admirable likenesses, they all are."

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Image Credits

  • The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, July 4th, 1776, 1823. Engraving by Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) after the painting by John Trumbull (1756-1843).

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