Michener Art Museum

William B. T. Trego » History Painter

There is probably not an American History book which doesn't have [a] Trego picture in it.-Edwin A. Peeples

William B.T. Trego's monumental canvases celebrate American military history of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Paralyzed at age one, Trego may have been drawn to military subjects because they epitomized the vitality and glory of which he was deprived. His paintings accentuate action, capturing horses bounding in mid-stride, and passion, sensitively rendering soldiers' emotions in the heat of battle.
The poignant heroism of the Civil War captured Trego's imagination and filled his canvases. Straining to convey the intensity of its battles with vivid realism, Trego watched cavalry in action, studied military paraphernalia, and made several preliminary sketches of each subject. Painting his soldiers and their accouterments in minute and brightly colored detail against a gray-blue ground, Trego heightened the scenes' drama.
Trego was among the last American artists to dedicate themselves to history painting. In 1883 the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts attempted to revive interest in this genre. Because all the submissions were weak, the Academy awarded the canvas it judged best, Trego's The March to Valley Forge, December 16, 1777, a silver medal. Deeming this practice unfair, Trego unsuccessfully sued the Academy. The scandal surrounding Trego's lawsuit further dimmed the genre's glory.