|The above image is a preliminary
painting completed c. 1797, and is now exhibited in the Yale University
Art Gallery. The final work, completed on, or before 1824, is
displayed in the Rotunda of the Nation's Capitol. As Cornwallis
pleaded illness and did not appear for the surrender ceremonies on 19
October 1781, the title is best labeled the
General Cornwallis sent his second in command, General O'Hara
(on foot, center in the painting*),
to offer his sword, which was received by General Washington's second,
General Lincoln (mounted, center*). Trumbull was not present
at the 1781 surrender, but he did make an effort to capture the likeness
of many of the individual's portrayed. In spite of his research and
potential to interview contemporary witnesses, Trumbull's artistic
orientation persuaded him to take considerable liberties in his painting.
(*NOTE: These identifications are addressed further in last section
of this page.)
Trumbull had been an officer in the Continental Army in 1775,
and for a short period was an aide-de-camp of Washington. However, he resigned
his commission in a fit of pique in 1777. In 1780 he went to study in London,
but was arrested in reprisal for the American hanging of the British spy Major
André. Trumbull returned to England in 1784 and studied with Benjamin West. In
England, Trumbull was influenced by the heroic nationalistic paintings so
popular at the Royal Academy. In such works, specific technical accuracy was not
as important and presenting the event with dramatic flair and staging. Imagery
was chosen more to impress the intended viewing audience, which would naturally
be attuned to fashions of times later than those at the time the subject scene
occurred. The artists, performing somewhat as 'propagandists' felt the needs to
cater to the fashions most familiar to their viewing public.
In preparing to paint the
‘Yorktown Surrender' scene,
Trumbull traveled across Europe in 1787-88 to sketch the likeness of the senior
European officers at Yorktown, and did the same with American participants when
he returned to the US in 1789. Trumbull painted in Washington's portrait in New
York in February or March 1790, and visited Yorktown in April 1791 to sketch the
landscape. He wrote to Jefferson expressing that his goal in painting "was
commemorating the great events of our country's Revolution."
For some time, Trumbull's projected historical paintings did
not meet with success, and he was forced to paint portraits. Finally, in 1816,
he was commissioned to paint panels for the Rotunda of the Nation's Capitol. His
heroic renderings have become icons depicting: the ‘Declaration of
Independence', the ‘Surrender of Cornwallis',
‘Surrender of Burgoyne', and
‘Washington Resigning' his military commission, which he completed in 1824 after
earlier sketches. In 1831 he gave his personal collection to Yale University –
though he was a 1773 Harvard graduate.
Questionable imagery and errors in Trumbull's
- General O'Hara was mounted, and not on
foot, during the ceremony. However, the rendering as shown today is a 'make
do' correction of Trumbull's initial error which depicted Cornwallis on
horseback in the center of the painting. Trumbull was obviously not too
familiar with the details of the surrender ceremonies. His original portrait
of Cornwallis in the scene was challenged when presented to the public. The
artist attempted to correct the error by changing the color of the uniform --
thereby making 'Cornwallis' the American General Lincoln. Some
observers report that "a comparison of portraits of Lincoln and Cornwallis
leaves little doubt but that the figure originally represented Cornwallis." It
is not certain even if Trumbull intended for the British officer standing next
to the mounted figure in the center to be General O'Hara.
- The cut of the uniforms and epaulettes are not of the 1781
time period, but rather reflect the military fashions of 1790's and after.
- Trumbull placed de Grasse among the line of mounted French
senior officers (immediately to Rochambeau's right). However, de Grasse never
set foot on American soil during the campaign.
- There is debate as to the 'national' flags shown in
Trumbull's painting. There are some contemporary descriptions as to the design
of the American flag which do not conform to the one shown by Trumbull.
However, Edward W. Richardson's Standards and Colors of the American
(University of Pennsylvania Press and the
Pennsylvania Sons of the American Revolution and Its Color Guard, 1982)
makes an effort to focus on the specific topic.
Richardson points to an illustration map 'Continental and
French Armies at Yorktown' executed by Sebastian Bauman, who had been with the
US Army at Yorktown in 1781. Bauman executed his work in 1782. His work
contains the American and French Royal (with cartouche of the Royal Arms)
standards as decorations framing the title notes. Richardson's constructed
image looks a lot like that of Trumbull's painting. So there is reasonable
support for Trumbull showing the ‘Stars and Stripes' were at Yorktown, with
only minor questions remaining as to number of red/white stripes and points on
the white stars in a blue field.
The French flag is, of course, not the standard of the King
of France – which would have had the royal arms in the center. Richardson's
Standards and Colors of the American Revolution, states that there is no
certain description of an overall standard displayed by the French. French
regiments each had two flags -- that of the regimental colors and a mostly
white flag -- 'the colonel's colors' -- that bore a small image of the
colonel's arms. French naval vessels had large white flags, upon which was
sewn large white crosses – giving the appearance of all white. Otherwise,
there is little support for Trumbull's depiction of the French 'national' flag
in his painting of the Yorktown surrender.
Interestingly the French artist Blarenberge's paintings of
the surrender present considerable detail of the Regimental colors, even
showing the Royal Deux-Ponts' 'Colonel's Colors' as well as Washington's 'Blue
Standard'. Blarenghe was a professional painter of battle and campaign scenes
for the French army. He was not present at Yorktown in 1781, but his paintings
were executed under the direct supervision of Berthier, a skilled draftsman
and former member of Rochambeau's staff in America
(1781-83). His depictions of French flags and
uniforms remain the most reliable visual references.