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Art + History: John Trumbull’s The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

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Art + History: John Trumbull’s The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, July 9, 2024 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0488
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull 

Great art is timeless, and speaks to us across time, culture, and space. Yet great works come from real people living real lives—whether their work was made 5 minutes or 500 years ago. Popular Smithsonian Associates speaker Paul Glenshaw returns to the Art + History series to look at great works of art in their historical context. He delves into the time of the artist, explores the present they inhabited, and what shaped their vision and creations.

As he examines The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis by John Trumbull, Glenshaw is joined by Revolutionary War scholar Iris de Rode, whose groundbreaking discoveries of the eyewitness accounts of one of the top French generals depicted in the painting bring a fresh perspective to the French­–American alliance and the French contribution to the American side of the war.  

The surrender of the British at Yorktown in 1781 is a pivotal moment in history. The painting depicts the unlikely alliance of the American revolutionaries and the army of the King of France—witnessing the effective end of the Revolutionary War. Trumbull’s iconic image of the event hangs in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol. Painted years after the original victory, Trumbull arranged the characters (whom he painted from life in Paris and other places) for maximum dramatic effect. It’s not a depiction of exactly what happened—like history films today that are “based on a true story.”

Glenshaw and de Rode unfold the story of Yorktown and Trumbull, starting from the painting’s unveiling in the Rotunda in 1826. How did the French and American military leaders overcome their cultural differences to become a unified force with a joint mission? Trumbull himself is fascinating—a painter, then soldier, then painter, diplomat, and painter again—who had a front-row seat and personal acquaintances with the soldiers and statesmen whose images he would fashion for posterity. And the process of creating the painting is, in and of itself, an epic tale.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*

General Information

*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.