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American Art Project Essay

Declaration of Independence, John Trumbull

Artist John Trumbull (1756-1843) of Lebanon, Connecticut painted the Declaration of Independence, which was hung in 1826. The painting is of a moment on June 28, 1776 when the first draft of the Declaration was presented to the Second Continental Congress, less than a week before the document was officially adopted (Architect of the Capitol website). The elegance of the room, the importance of the event, and the displayed captured British flags seemingly portray a moment of triumphant victory and success. I believe Trumbull was successful in portraying this in his effort to capture a legendary moment in American history.

Part of Trumbull’s success possibly stems from the fact that he did not attempt to recreate accuracy of the scene painted. He instead thrived to attain preservation of the images of the Nation’s founders. There are men in the painting who were not present in the actual event, but were signers of the document. For this reason, I believe the message of the painting is the importance of the event to American history. Adopting the Declaration of Independence as an official document was a major step towards American freedom. Another clue is that the painting is often mistaken for the actual signing of the Declaration, which didn’t take place until over a month later. The artist’s intentions shown in the painting seems to affect the interpretation gained today, which shows that the artist was able to clearly depict the painting’s victory and triumph.

Embarkation of the Pilgrims, Robert Weir

The painting, Embarkation of the Pilgrims (1843) is considered to be Robert Weir’s (1803-1889) most famous work. It depicts the Pilgrims on the deck of the ship Speedwell on July 22, 1620 before they departed from Delfs Haven, Holland for North America, where they sought religious freedom (Architect of the Capitol website). This journey must have been one of the many that populated the new land in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The message in the painting portrays fear, hope, and new beginnings. In the painting, the people are in prayer and looking upward. This makes me believe that they were entrusting God with whatever was next for them, or wherever their path was taking them. The article paired with the painting points out the city on the right side that the Pilgrims are leaving.

This city is the Pilgrims’ home; it was all they knew. The fact that is included in the picture could show that the Pilgrims feared the change, or represent the significance of the change. The fear of such a big move could explain the armor that was included in the painting. The Pilgrims had a need for protection from the unknown in the New World they were journeying to. The rainbow in the picture depicts their faith in God and His promise. They were leaving everything behind in search of religious freedom. Though they were in never ending prayer with a strong need of protection, their faith needed to be strong in order to actually go through with the journey.

Landing of Columbus, John Vanderlyn

The Landing of Columbus was painted by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852). The painting shows Christopher Columbus and members of his crew at the first landfall of their expedition to find a westward route from Europe to China, Japan, and other uncharted countries. The landing on the beach shown, in the West Indies, marks the beginning of the adventure that Columbus would be known of for the rest of all time. He is standing with his hat at his feet, sword towards the ground, flag in his hand and head held high as if he is declaring the land as Spain territory with much optimism about the future. The hat on the ground and flag mostly point towards claiming the land with the idea that wherever you lay your hat is home. His crew members do not seem to share the same optimism as Columbus, and appear sick and discouraged.

The man behind him seems to have a look of disapproval on his face, while others seem fairly unhappy. In the background, there are more people who look to be in a state of rejoicing at the feel of land, an understandable gesture after being on the ship for so long. The Indians on the far right are standing behind trees as if they are hiding from the newcomers. I believe this may be out of fear, as they are unfamiliar with the crew who, pictured in the painting, sport weapons. Commissioned in June 1836 and installed in January 1847, this painting leaves an unclear message full of mixed emotions among a hopeful sailor, his not so optimistic crew, and territorial Native Americans.

Surrender of General Burgoyne, John Trumbull

John Trumbull (1756-1843) of Lebanon, Connecticut also painted the Surrender of General Burgoyne, an event that took place at Saratoga, New York on October 17, 1777. It was a “turning point in the American Revolution” that “prevented the British from dividing New England from the rest of the colonies.” It was also the “deciding factor in bringing active French support to the American cause.” The painting, hung in 1826, pictures General Burgoyne handing over his sword in surrender with only one other member of the British Army among countless men of the American militia. To me, this shows America’s strength and victory compared to Britain’s weakness and loss.

Despite their victory, General Gates declines the sword and is pictured directing Burgoyne to the tent, displaying America’s humble hospitality and good sportsmanship. America’s flag is flown high, blowing in the wind among a background of receding gloomy clouds and clear blue skies. This can be interpreted as a mark of hope in new beginnings for America due to their victory in the war against the throne. The content of this picture leads me to believe that the message is something similar to this: “Despite Britain’s numerous efforts, including taxation and war, America still stands while maintaining her bearing as a humble, yet free nation.”

William Allen – Ohio

William Allen was born in North Carolina on December 27, 1803. He moved to Ohio at the age of sixteen after his parents’ death in hopes of making a future for himself. His life from that point portrays ambition, determination, and success, which makes him a great choice for representation of Ohio. He studied at the Chillicothe Academy for two years before studying law with Colonel Edward King. He was admitted to the bar in Ohio at the age of 21. The Jackson democrats of Allen’s district nominated him as a congressional candidate in a Republican district, which he won. He served one term in the House of Representatives, lost the reelection, and was appointed by the governor to finish out a term as a United States Senator for Thomas Ewing. He was reelected to this position for a second term. In 1873, William Allen was elected governor of Ohio. He died in his estate on July 11, 1879 after only serving one term. Throughout his career, Allen was a strong supporter of the United States territorial rights in Oregon, favored the incorporation of Texas, was not shy about his point of view towards Abraham Lincoln, and was an anti-war Democrat.

James A. Garfield, Ohio

James A. Garfield was the twentieth President of the United States before dying within six months. Born November 1831 as the youngest of five children, Garfield was the last president to have been born in a log cabin. He grew up influenced by religion, and finished his studies just under the age of 30. He was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1859, and was admitted to the bar in 1860. During the Civil War, Garfield fought tooth and nail for his officer commission and worked his way through the ranks to major general. From 1863 to 1880, he was a representative in the House for nine consecutive terms, and served on the Military Affairs Committee, as well as the Ways and Means committee.

Although he was elected to Senate in 1880, he never served due to his presidential election. Garfield’s presidency was short lived after he was shot July 1881 on his way to Williams College to deliver a speech. Over the next few weeks, Garfield became extremely sick due to infection. On September 19, 1881, President James A. Garfield was pronounced dead after suffering a massive heart attack, a ruptured splenic artery aneurysm, blood poisoning and bronchial pneumonia. Reviewing his career and achievements, one finds that he became someone major despite his childhood shortcomings and setbacks. He is also a great candidate for Ohio, as his determination increased his ability to go far. Although he finished school later than others, he continued his studies well into his career.

Niehaus, C. (1886). James A. Garfield. Retrieved 25 Apr 14, from http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/james-garfield. Niehaus, C. (1887). William Allen. Retrieved 25 Apr 14, from http://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/william-all

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