Provenance (original): Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Virginia and Nicholas Trist; by descent to an anonymous donor; by gift to Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1941
Accession Number: 1941-3 (original), 1970-65-2
Historical Notes: In late 1785 John Trumbull resolved to devote himself to the depiction of Revolutionary War scenes "which have since been the great objects of my professional life."1 Benjamin West encouraged Trumbull's objectives, as did Jefferson. From the outset Trumbull intended to paint the pictures so that they could be engraved for sale. Through Benjamin West, Trumbull made the acquaintance of "an Italian artist, by the name of Antonio di Poggi, of very superior talents as a draughtsman, and who had recently commenced the business of publishing."2
The first two works that Trumbull completed of the series of eight were The Battle at Bunker's Hill and The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack of Quebec, which were much influenced not only by West, but also by the dramatic action of John Singleton Copley's Death of Chatham (1781) and The Death of Major Pierson (1782-84). Bunker's Hill was begun in 1785 and completed in March 1786; Quebec was begun in February 1785 and finished before Trumbull brought it to Paris in 1786. The Declaration of Independence was begun at Jefferson's house in Paris.
As soon as Bunker's Hill and Quebec were completed, Trumbull tried to find a suitable engraver in London. He was unsuccessful and instead decided to look for an engraver in Paris, where Jefferson had invited him to stay with him at the Hôtel de Langeac. Finding acceptable engravers for the series proved to be a difficult task. In 1786 Trumbull journeyed through Germany and the Low Countries to look for an engraver. He then returned to London to work on The Declaration of Independence and to begin a new work, The Sortie of the Garrison at Gibraltar. After meeting little success, he went back to the United States in November 1789, traveling everywhere to compile portraits for the historical series. Discouraged, he temporarily abandoned the project in 1793, saying that "my great enterprise was blighted."3 Trumbull accepted a post with John Jay on the Jay Treaty Commission, and returned to London. While serving there, Bunker's Hill and Quebec were finally published in 1798. Jefferson's worn copies are in the Monticello collection; the ones exhibited are duplicates.