Trumbull’s Bunker Hill as You Never Have Seen It Before

Post image for Trumbull’s Bunker Hill as You Never Have Seen It Before

in about Warren

Source: Yale University Art Gallery, Study for Death of General Joseph Warren at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill, by John Trumbull, September 1785, catalog 1993.79.1.  In: Peter Hawes, A Great Panorama Celebrating Twenty-five Years of American Art at Yale, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 1998), 52, ill.   It has not been publicly displayed for over a decade.

Commentary:  This sketch may be Trumbull’s earliest conceptualization for the painting. Yale University Art Gallery acquired it within the past 20 years.  Few historians know of its existence.  Notable differences from the finished painting include:  a mirror image orientation – relative to the finished painting – with American figures facing left; the supine Warren facing two bayonet thrusts versus one; rear facing orientation to the standing figure in the central vignette of the dying Warren; more prominence given to the British amphibious landing in the background; no devices evident on the flags; and absence of any distinctly black soldiers.

Identifiable small portraits of notable participants are not yet in the composition.  In the final painting these include British leaders Major John Small, Major John Pitcairn, Lord Rawdon, General Henry Clinton, and General William Howe; and Joseph Warren, Thomas Grosvenor, General Israel Putnam, and (some assert) Peter Salem.  Those wanting to know Thomas Knowlton’s portrait here will come up null.

John Trumbull (1756-1843) was an American painter who devoted his career to historical genre paintings and portraits depicting American Revolutionary era events and personalities.  Many of his paintings have defined the iconography of the era in heroic terms and are instantly recognizable to all students of American history.  Trumbull took great care in composition and achieving accurate likenesses of both British and American figures involved in the battle.

Detailed description from the gallery: Brush and black wash, pen and brown ink.  Sheet 12.7 x 20.32 cm (5 x 8 in.).  Bequest of Susan Silliman Pearson.  Kahn, 404A, IL D1A-1815

Previous post:

Next post: