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Declaration of Independence (painting)

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Declaration of Independence
About 50 men, most of them seated, are in a large meeting room. Most are focused on the five men standing in the center of the room. The tallest of the five is laying a document on a table.
ArtistJohn Trumbull
Yearcommissioned 1817;
purchased 1819;
date of creation 1818;
placed in U.S. Capitol rotunda 1826
Dimensions3.7 m × 5.5 m (12 ft × 18 ft)
LocationU.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., U.S.

Declaration of Independence is a 12-by-18-foot (3.7 by 5.5 m) oil-on-canvas painting by the American artist John Trumbull depicting the presentation of the draft of the Declaration of Independence to Congress. It was based on a much smaller version of the same scene, presently held by the Yale University Art Gallery.[1] Trumbull painted many of the figures in the picture from life, and visited Independence Hall to depict the chamber where the Second Continental Congress met. The oil-on-canvas work was commissioned in 1817, purchased in 1819, and placed in the United States Capitol rotunda in 1826.

The painting is sometimes incorrectly described as depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The painting shows the five-man drafting committee presenting their draft of the Declaration to the Congress, an event that took place on June 28, 1776, and not its signing, which took place mainly on August 2.[2]

The painting shows 42 of the 56 signers of the Declaration; Trumbull originally intended to include all 56 signers but was unable to obtain likenesses for all of them. He also depicted several participants in the debate who did not sign the document, including John Dickinson, who declined to sign. Trumbull had no portrait of Benjamin Harrison V to work with, but his son Benjamin Harrison VI was said to resemble his father, so Trumbull painted him instead. Similarly, Trumbull painted Rufus Hopkins, who resembled his father Stephen Hopkins, for whom no portrait was available. As the Declaration was debated and signed over a period of time when membership in Congress changed, the men featured in the painting never were in the same room at the same time.

Although Thomas Jefferson appears to be stepping on John Adams' shoe in the painting, which many thought symbolized their relationship as friendly rivals, upon closer examination it can be seen that their feet are merely close together. This part of the image was correctly depicted on the two-dollar bill version.

On the farthest wall hangs a display of trumpets, drum, and regimental colours captured from British regiments. This is not depicted in all versions, most notably the one seen on the two-dollar bill.

Key to historical figures depicted in the painting[edit]

George WytheWilliam WhippleJosiah BartlettThomas Lynch Jr.Benjamin HarrisonRichard Henry LeeSamuel AdamsGeorge ClintonWilliam PacaSamuel ChaseLewis MorrisWilliam FloydArthur MiddletonThomas Heyward Jr.Charles CarrollGeorge WaltonRobert MorrisThomas WillingBenjamin RushElbridge GerryRobert Treat PaineAbraham ClarkStephen HopkinsWilliam ElleryGeorge ClymerWilliam HooperJoseph HewesJames WilsonFrancis HopkinsonJohn AdamsRoger ShermanRobert R. LivingstonThomas JeffersonBenjamin FranklinRichard StocktonFrancis LewisJohn WitherspoonSamuel HuntingtonWilliam WilliamsOliver WolcottCharles ThomsonJohn HancockGeorge ReadJohn DickinsonEdward RutledgeThomas McKeanPhilip Livingston
Trumbull's Declaration of Independence
Clickable image: Point at a face to identify the person, click to go to the corresponding article.
Click anywhere else in the image to go to the image's file page and view a larger version.
U.S. government's key to the painting

The key to the 47 figures in the painting follows the numbering used by the U.S. government publication "Art of the Capitol" (in the illustration of the key shown in this section) but provides a different (hopefully clearer) description of which figure is where in the painting, so numbers are not entirely in order.

Key to figures (in each group, listed from left to right):

Four men seated on the far left:

Seated at the table on the left:

Seated together to the right of Harrison and in front of the standing figures:

Five figures standing together on the left:

Three seated figures in the back between the two sets of standing figures:

Set of three figures standing together in the back:

Ten figures seated:

Five figures standing in front (the Committee of Five):

Four background figures seated together near the right corner of the room:

Two figures standing in the right corner of the room:

Two foreground figures at the central table:

Three figures standing at right:

Two figures seated at far right:

(Note: † - Not a signer of the final Declaration of Independence but depicted in painting. Although Charles Thomson was one of two members listed by name in the earlier Dunlap Broadside as having attested to the Declaration, and many historians believe he had signed the original document that was lost. Clinton was not present at the signing of the Declaration.)

Unpainted signers[edit]

There were 14 signers of the Declaration who did not appear in the painting:

On U.S. currency and postage stamps[edit]

The painting was pictured on an 1869 United States 24-cent definitive postage stamp

Trumbull's Declaration of Independence signing scene painting has been depicted several times on United States currency and postage stamps. It was first used on the reverse side of the $100 National Bank Note that was issued in 1863.[3] The depiction was engraved by Frederick Girsch of the American Bank Note Company.[4] The same steel engraving was used on the 24¢ stamp issued six years later as part of the 1869 pictorial series of definitive U.S. postage stamps.[5]

Trumbull's painting is presently depicted on the reverse of the two-dollar bill. Featured in it are 40 of the 47 figures from Trumbull's painting. Cut out from the scene are: the farthest four figures on the left—George Wythe, William Whipple, Josiah Bartlett, and Thomas Lynch, Jr.; the farthest two figures on the right—Thomas McKean and Philip Livingston; and one of three figures seated in the left rear—George Walton. Additionally, two unrecognized figures were added: one in between Samuel Chase and Lewis Morris and another between James Wilson and Francis Hopkinson, bringing the total number of figures shown in this presentation scene to 42.

1863 United States 100-dollar National Bank Note (reverse)
1976 United States two-dollar bill (reverse)

Other versions[edit]

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, John Trumbull, (1786–1820), Yale University Art Gallery

Trumbull painted a smaller version (only 20.875 by 31 inches (53.02 cm × 78.74 cm)) entitled The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 (1786–1820) that is now on view at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut.[1]

Legacy and interpretations[edit]

In 2017, the company Ancestry.com restaged the painting with the 29 living descendants of the men depicted in Trumbull's painting as part of an advertising campaign called “Declaration Descendants".[6][7] The campaign included two short films and ran on digital and social media platforms. Shannon Lanier, a descendant of Thomas Jefferson, said: “When you see the new picture, the new image, it’s a picture of diverse people. Black, white, Hispanic, Native American—a little bit of everything—Asian, and that’s more of a representation of this country.”[8]

In the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams, in one of the final scenes of the series, the painter John Trumbull is showing his massive mural to an elderly John Adams for his approval. While staring at the painting Adams mentions, "They're all dead ... except me and Jefferson." He then expresses to Trumbull his disapproval of the work. This leads to a brief argument between the men about the difference between artistic license and historical accuracy. The scene itself is entirely fictional, but serves as a warning towards the fictionalization of the past itself with Adams stating "It is very bad history".[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Trumbull, John. "The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776". Yale University Art Gallery.
  2. ^ John Hazelton, "The Historical Value of Trumbull's - 'Declaration of Independence' ", The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography - Volume 31, (Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1907), 38.
  3. ^ "History Timeline". Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Department of the Treasury. Archived from the original on 2014-01-14.
  4. ^ Hessler, Gene (1993). The Engraver's Line – An Encyclopedia of Paper Money & Postage Stamp Art. BNR Press. p. 137. ISBN 0-931960-36-3.
  5. ^ Forster, Jeffrey (2012). "The Chronicle's Assistant Section Editor - 1869 Pictorial Issue". U.S. Philatelic Classics Society. Archived from the original on May 14, 2011. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  6. ^ "'Declaration of Independence' Painting Recreated With Founders' Diverse Descendants". Observer. 2017-07-05. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  7. ^ Team, Editorial. "Meet the Descendants of America's Founding Fathers". Branding.news. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  8. ^ Quijao, Elaine (4 July 2017). "Founding Fathers' descendants unite 241 years later to re-create iconic painting". www.cbsnews.com. Retrieved 2020-07-05.
  9. ^ HBO's Miniseries "John Adams" (2008). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DT0qNAYJQWU

External links[edit]

Keys to the figures