The Role of Art in the American Revolution

April 6th, 2017

7:00 pm - 8:00 pm

As chief curator of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Westport resident Robin Jaffee Frank saw first-hand how children, sitting cross-legged before paintings of the American Revolution, learned about the history of their country. 


Dr. Frank will present a talk about the role of art in swaying public opinion in the colonies in favor of the Revolutionary War and how it also helped our ancestors forge a sense of their national identity.


The art historian’s appearance is part of the our month-long observance of the 240th anniversary of the British Raid on Danbury, which began April 25, 1777, with the landing of 1,800 Redcoats and Loyalists at Compo Beach. First Selectman James Marpe has proclaimed April “American Revolution Month in Westport” in recognition of the raid’s impact on the American Revolution in Connecticut.


Frank will look at three different kinds of artworks from the Revolutionary era: art as propaganda, as a record of history, and as personal keepsakes. One of the most important works from the period, she says, was Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, an inaccurate depiction that “crystallized opinion against the British.”


In addition to giving a one-sided portrayal on that watershed event on the road to revolution, Frank says, Revere showed the runaway slave Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the massacre, as white.


Very different, says Frank, are the works of Connecticut native John Trumbull, who, though dubbed “America’s patriot painter,” sought to create canvases that showed the valor and humanity of soldiers on both sides. Trumbull, son of the governor of the Connecticut Colony during the war, was a passionate believer in democracy who used his paintings to promote this ideal, Frank adds.


His most famous work is “Declaration of Independence,” the original version of which hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery, where Frank was a curator before moving to the Wadsworth. Though not strictly accurate – it shows men who were not present the day the draft of the Declaration was presented to the Continental Congress – it aims for “a greater truth,” that every member of that body had a role in the crafting and acceptance of that document, Frank says.


Lastly, the art historian will discuss “keepsake art” of the Revolutionary era. These were miniature watercolors of loved ones, done on ivory and framed as jewelry, Frank says. Soldiers carried them into battle and mothers kept them as remembrances of their sons, she said. Two rare minis, one of George Washington and one of his wife, Martha, will be shown as part of Frank’s program. Tokens of love, they show America’s first couple not as national icons but simply as husband and wife, she says.


There is a $10 donation and reservations are suggested. Please call (203)222-1424 to make a reservation.