An iconic full-length portrait by the celebrated Revolutionary-era painter John Trumbull of Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury under President George Washington, will join the permanent collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, thanks to a gift from the painting’s owner, the global wealth manager and investment bank Credit Suisse.
Each institution will own a half share of Portrait of Alexander Hamilton (1792), which is on view at Crystal Bridges and has been on loan from Credit Suisse and on view since the museum opened.
The painting will travel to the Metropolitan Museum in summer 2013 and return to Crystal Bridges in 2014. In subsequent years, each museum plans to exhibit the painting for two-year periods, when it will be integrated into the galleries and, on occasion, included in special exhibitions at each museum.
Thomas Campbell, director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, said the museum is “pleased and honored to share this remarkable work with Crystal Bridges.”
“Trumbull’s Alexander Hamilton is not only an important work of American art, but as a portrait of one of our country’s Founding Fathers, it’s an important document in American history,” Don Bacigalupi, president of Crystal Bridges, said in a statement. “This painting has been on view at Crystal Bridges since we opened, and we’re grateful to Credit Suisse for their generosity in allowing us to add this fine example to our collection. This shared gift demonstrates how institutions can work together to further expand and enrich access to art through collection sharing. We look forward to continuing our productive relationship with the Met.”
In December 1791, a committee of five New York merchants commissioned John Trumbull (1756-1843), one of the nation’s leading artists, to paint this full-length portrait of the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804). An illegitimate child born in the Caribbean, Hamilton was orphaned at age 13 by his father’s desertion and his mother’s death. He labored as a clerk at a St. Croix trading house before he was sent by his bosses to be educated in New York, the city he would adopt as his home. Hamilton had fought alongside Washington and Lafayette during the Revolution.
He was also Washington’s primary advisor in financial and legal matters. After participating in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he articulated his nationalist principles of government in a series of pamphlets signed “Publius.” These were published in New York newspapers and later compiled in two volumes entitled The Federalist. Written in cooperation with John Jay and James Madison, they expounded Hamilton’s belief that only a strong federal government could sustain the union and encouraged the delegates to ratify the Constitution. Envisioning a close collaboration between government and mercantile communities, he launched plans to encourage native manufacturing, to improve the infrastructure of the young republic, and to establish a national bank.
The committee that commissioned Hamilton’s portrait in 1791 represented the Chamber of Commerce, a recently founded society of merchants in New York City. The painting was destined for the Chamber’s offices, where it served as a testimony to the members’ admiration for the sitter and commemorated Hamilton as a model of public and mercantile virtue. Hamilton and Trumbull were Revolutionary colleagues and friends.