TRUMBULL, John, artist (1756-1843). - Asher B. DURAND, engraver (1796-1886)
The Declaration of Independence. July 4th, 1776.
New York: 1820. Engraving by Durand after Trumbull. Grolier vi/vi; Stauffer ii/ii. Sheet size: 23 3/4 x 32 3/8 inches.
The first engraved version of Trumbull's famous painting depicting the signing of the Declaration of Independence: a monument to American art and engraving.
The painting from which this image is taken was the result of over thirty 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).
Thomas Jefferson played an integral role in the work, suggested to Trumbull that the scene of the signing of the Declaration 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 [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 Jefferson would declare the portraits "admirable likenesses, they all are." In the central group in the painting, Jefferson is shown placing the Declaration before John Hancock, president of the Congress. With him stand the other members of the committee that created the draft: John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston and Benjamin Franklin.
The print is a major work of American engraving. "Durand was commissioned by Trumbull to engrave this plate for the sum of $3000. He was engaged on it for three years, the plate being finished and published late in 1823" (Grolier). Trumbull was pleased with the work, writing about Durand to the Marquis de Lafayette in 1823, sending a proof "of a print which which has been engraved here from my painting of the Declaration of Independence, by a young engraver, born in this vicinity, and now only twenty-six years old. This work is wholly American, even to the paper and printing, a circumstance which renders it popular here and will make it a curiosity to you, who knew America when she had neither painters nor engravers, nor arts of any kind, except for those of stern utility." The Grolier catalogue of Durand's work identifies five proofs preceding this final, finished state.
"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).
Groce & Wallace p.637; Sellers. Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture p.375; cf. T. Sizer The Works of Colonel John Trumbull ; The Grolier Club, Catalogue of the Engraved Work of Asher B. Durand (New York: 1895), 234 (vi/vi); Stauffer 679 (ii/ii); Hudson River Museum, Asher B. Durand: An Engraver's and a Farmer's Art (Yonkers: 1983) 16.