William T. Trego: Catalogue Raisonne

The March to Valley Forge, December 16, 1777, 1883

Courtesy of The American Revolution Center

Vital Statistics

Alternate title: Washington Reviewing His Troops at Valley Forge
Oil on canvas, 40 x 72 inches
Signed ll: “W. T. Trego, Phila. 1883”
American Revolution Center

Commentary

In this work Trego was inspired by a passage from Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington: “Sad and dreary was the march to Valley Forge . . .” and this passage was printed in the catalogue for the 1883 exhibition. The painting became the focus of a famous controversy when Trego sued the Pennsylvania Academy after receiving only the third prize in the annual Temple competition, despite the judges’ decision that his painting was the best of those entered. Though Trego ultimately lost the case in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 1886, the two years of scandal provided the young artist with excellent publicity for his work. It is sometimes suggested that the young soldier saluting Washington is a portrait of the artist himself, but if Trego intended this, the resemblance is not strong.

To assure a balanced composition on such a large canvas populated with so many figures, Trego utilized various geometrical schemes, including the classical device of the golden section to position key individuals and vignettes for best effect. The horse in the exact center is looking directly at us, a device intended to draw us into the scene. The foreground grouping, which includes Washington and the two figures saluting him on either side, are framed within a space defined by two superimposed golden rectangles measured in from each end of the painting. A pyramid formed by drawing lines from the center top point down to each bottom corner further serves to define the space with Washington and the young soldier saluting him, and it determines the position of a gun which is held exactly parallel to that line. The poignant group of three men at the head of the line of march are in their own space just outside the space defined for the rest of the foreground figures.


Provenance

Purchased from Newman Galleries in Philadelphia, 7 March 1931, by the Valley Forge Historical Society, which held ownership of the painting until the formation of the American Revolution Center, to which ownership was then transferred.

Exhibitions

Philadelphia, 1883: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; It was for many years on view at the Washington Memorial Chapel at Valley Forge, then in the Valley Forge National Park Welcome Center until recently.
Doylestown, Pennsylvania, James A. Michener Art Museum, June 3-Oct 2, 2011: "So Bravely and So Well: The Life and Art of William T. Trego."

Reproductions

As one of the iconic images of the American Revolution and the most popular of Trego’s works, the painting has been reproduced too many times and in too many ways to enumerate. A public domain image has been in use since at least 1923. Walter B. Newman of Newman Galleries in Philadelphia registered a copyright for the image he called “Washington Reviewing His Troops at Valley Forge,” on 1 June 1932. He misstated the artist’s middle initial as an “L” (Catalog of Copyright Entries, part 4 [Library of Congress, 1933]). The painting has been used to illustrate numerous history books and has often appeared on the covers of monographs about the revolution—Walter Havinghurst, Exploring Literature, 1968; Stacy A. Swigart, Valley Forge, 2002; Stacia Deutsch, Rhody Cohon, Guy Francis, Washington’s War, 2007; John W. Jackson, Valley Forge: Pinnacle of Courage, 1996; John Ferling, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence, 2007—to name just a few. Prints of varying size and quality have been commercially available in abundance for some time. It was famously reproduced as a group of U.S. postage stamps in 1976 during the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution.

Reference

Illustrated Catalogue, 54th annual Exhibition, October 29th to December 8th, 1883 (PAFA: 1883).

Condition

The painting was conserved and cleaned in 2011 by Barbara Ventresco, and is now in excellent condition.



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James A. Michener Art Museum William T. Trego Catalogue Raisonne