||TRUMBULL, After John (1756-1843, artist). - Waterman Lilly ORMSBY (1809-1883, engraver)
The Declaration of Independence
[New York?: no date, but c.1876]. Original steel printing plate, engraved by Waterman Lilly Ormsby. Plate maker's mark 'J. Garside / Newark N.J.' stamped on verso. Plate size 24 x 32 5/8 inches.
The original plate from which was printed one of the most admired engraved versions of 'the most important visual record of the heroic period of American history' ('Concise Dictionary of American Biography' p.1082).
The painting from which this image is taken was the result of eight years work by John Trumbull: this is not surprising when one learns that, of the 48 portraits that it finally included, a remarkable thirty six were executed from life. The painting, now in the Yale University Art Gallery, is undoubtedly Turnbull's masterpiece. ' Without a flourish, without heroic gesture, with the associations of power and elegance transformed into sobriety and determination, Trumbull's painting is not grand, but it achieves grandeur. There is not another like it in the world. The very immobility of the figures and the airlessness of the room suggest the frozen instant in which had been born the new state, to be led not by the caprice or ambitions of a monarch, but by the sweet dictates of republican reason.' (Irma Jaffé John Trumbull, p.117).
'As a national image, The Declaration of Independence has penetrated the American consciousness through reproductions in history books, popular magazines, calendars, and every kind of image-making medium.' ( Irma Jaffé John Trumbull, p.117). In the hierachy of the reproductions of this image, the large format steel-engraved plate produced by Ormsby must rank very near the top: indeed a copy of it is to be found in the White House itself.
Waterman Lilly Ormsby, born in Connecticut in 1809, studied at the National Academy of Design and after working for others in Albany, NY, and Lancaster, Mass., he eventually set up on his own in New York. In addition to being an engraver of the first order (as the present plate demonstrates) he was also the inventor of a number mechanical devices, including the 'pantograph' (according to Stauffer). In addition to fine art, he also specialised in engraving for paper money, and was one of the founders of the Continental Bank Note Co.
This plate, one of Ormsby's greatest (which still appears to be in good printable condition) is to be cherished as the matrix for the dissemination, through the engravings printed from it, of one of the most important images in American history.
Concise Dictionary of American Biography p.1082; Groce & Wallace p.637; Sellers. Banjamin Franklin in Portraiture p.375; cf. T. Sizer The Works of Colonel John Trumbull.
Concise Dictionary of American Biography p.751; Groce & Wallace p.478; cf. Hamilton Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 133, 467; Stauffer p.194