American artists, from the very beginning it seems, have had to fight for their place within the Colonial/Federal cultural climate. John Trumbull, arguably one of the best painters in the new sovereign nation following the American Revolutionary War, was passed over for commissions to document the sweeping themes of a successful fight for freedom. By the time the Federal government had decided to document its new history by commissioning John Trumbull to paint four history compositions, the artist was well past his prime. Had the leaders of the new nation acted in a more timely manner, Trumbull would have been at his artistic peak and the United States would have been the recipient of four masterful paintings documenting the incredible turn of events! The American leadership at the time was distracted by other ideas and Trumbull’s commissions came nearly 40 years too late! John Sloan, the strongest and most accomplished painter available in the colonies and Federal period after John Singleton Copley decided to leave for England, had unfortunately lost his youthful skill set by the time he was commissioned to document the new sovereign state. In essence, Trumbull and other painters were, according to American painter John Sloan, “the unwanted cockroach in the kitchen of a frontier society”!
What are your thoughts on Federal or State governments commissioning artists to document historical events for posterity?
John Trumbull, Self Portrait, 1802
John Trumbull, Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill, 1786
John Trumbull, George Washington at Trenton, 1792