Art and The American Revolution

The American Revolutionary war was between the Kingdom of Great Britain and thirteen united British colonies living on the North American Continent. The colonists wanted to no longer be under the rule of Britain and refused to pay their taxes. The American Revolutionary war began when Britain sent troops over to force the colonists to pay and in Lexington April 19, 1775 the first battle of many began. Over 10,000 battles continued across nearly every state in the Americas until it ended around September 3, 1783. It is estimated that more than six hundred thousand people perished.  Not only were the lives of American Colonists lost, but citizens from France, Spain and Dutch Republic were also lost fighting for America’s Independence.

During the eight years the war raged on there were many artists who documented the American Revolution with art, forever capturing the images of war, its soldiers and important political individuals who help deliver North America to gain its Independence.

Music also became an important part of the Revolutionary war with songs such as The Concord Hymn composed by Emerson, but the most famous and most recognized is Yankee Doodle Dandy. Yankee Doodle was a song derived from the pre-revolution days, but the tune stayed the same as it was the lyrics that would change throughout the war.

Below are two well renowned artists who helped document and capture the History of the Revolutionary war in their paintings.

Charles Wilson Peale (April 15, 1741- February 22, 1827)

Charles was born in Maryland 1741. He moved to Annapolis at the age of 9 and worked for a saddle maker, eventually gaining skills as a saddle maker, watch maker and silversmith. However, as a youth his true passion was in painting. He enjoyed painting so much he would teach himself painting techniques or trade saddles for lessons. As an adult he opened his own saddle maker shop, but once his creditors realized he was a part of the Sons of Liberty, they forced him out of business. Sons of Liberty were a group of people who protected the rights of the colonists. After being forced out of business some local supporters sent Charles to London to study and master Portrait painting under Benjamin West.  He returned to America in 1769, where he traveled for six years painting portraits of colonial leaders, eventually he enlisted as a private in the city militia. Quickly he advanced to 1st lieutenant, became proactive in politics, served on numerous committees and the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. During his career, he painted over 1100 portraits and paintings of the American Revolution. He would become known as the “American Revolution Artist“.

"George Washington at the Battle of Princeton," oil on canvas, by the American artist Charles Willson Peale. 1781

“George Washington at the Battle of Princeton,” oil on canvas, by the American artist Charles Wilson Peale. 1781

Capturing History through Art

Above is a portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale during the early days of the Revolutionary war. This portrait was meant to glorify George Washington as the new hero.  Even though Peale was criticized for painting George Washington’s head to small and for showing him a little too relaxed by leaning on a cannon with a hand on his hip, George Washington’s image standing above the British flags that rested beneath him was meant to motivate and inspire the colonists.

Gilbert Stuart (December 3, 1755-July 9, 1828)

Gilbert Charles Stuart was born in Saunderstown, Rhode Island. 1755.  At the age of 6 his family moved to Newport, Rhode Island and at the young age of fourteen he became friends with a Scottish artist Cosmo Alexander. Alexander would visit colonies and paint portraits of the local patrons. Alexander became Stuarts tutor and eventually they moved together to Scotland where Stuart could refine his skills. Unfortunately, Alexander died a year later leaving Stuart alone. Unable to support or provide for himself he moved back to Newport. In 1775 at the beginning of the Revolutionary war Stuart left for England where he also studied under Benjamin West. He worked with West for six years. Stuart soon became a successful painter, but he was always in financial debt and had to leave the country for fear of being taken to prison. In 1787 he moved to Dublin, Ireland where his debt problems followed him. Eventually he moved back to the states and painted the famous Anthenaeum.

George Washington (Antheneum portrait)  Gilbert Stuart  1796

George Washington (Antheneum portrait) Gilbert Stuart 1796

The One Dollar Bill

Above is the famous George Washington (Antheneum Portrait) by Gilbert Stuart, This painting despite being unfinished was celebrated for its remarkable resemblance of George Washington and became the famous picture still used to this day on the one dollar bill.  Gilbert Stuart will always be remembered as one of the renowned Revolutionary Portraitists  who painted over a thousand portraits, including the first six presidents of the United states.


Yankee Doodle – Published 1770

Yankee Doodle Tune

The origination of the lyrics and tune are still controversial, but one story is that a Dr. Richard Shuckburgh a military surgeon commissioned by the British created the traditional song and lyrics to make fun of the New Englanders who served in the French and Indian war in Canada.  Another thought is it is believed a man named Edward Bangs, a sophomore at Harvard who served in Lexington as a minuteman created a fifteen verse song.

What Do the Lyrics Mean?

The term doodle is thought to derive from dudel or dodel that means fool or simpleton. The Macaraoni wig was a fashion that became a slang term for foppishness, vain or dandy. The Macaronis were supposed to be young English men who wore extravagant clothing and thought to have feminine qualities. The joke was if they placed a feather in their hat it would make them fashionable and insinuated that they were not very masculine and feminine in nature instead.

 Yankee doodle

Yankee doodle- Below are links to two variations of Yankee Doodle

The Lyrics Revolution

The song’s lyrics changed over the years and numerous variations of the song have been composed. Even during the Revolutionary war the lyrics were changed and played after many monumental events. For instance, after the battle of Lexington in 1775, during Cornwallis surrender in 1781 and when the British surrendered in Saratoga. However, the British would also partake in making it’s own variation of the song for instance after the  Battle of Bunker Hill the British had create another set of lyrics.

Despite its controversy in origin the song has withstood centuries and has become the state song for Connecticut and whenever heard will always be associated with Patriotism and the Revolutionary War.


During the Revolutionary War artists found it very important to capture true likeness of their subjects and or depictions of the war. Both music and art of the time seemed to be used for patriotic motivation and it worked.

Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Art and The American Revolution

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog. Especially the parts about the dollar bill and the Yankee Doodle song. Growing up I remember singing the song in grade school. I found the information that you provided about the dollar bill really interesting. I never knew that the painting wasn’t officially finished. It’s neat that they used the portrait anyways. I also like the fact that the same artist painted portraits of the first six presidents. Your conclusion was my favorite part; it captured the ultimate goal that the artists of that time were trying to reach, especially in America.

  2. Olivia

    The Yankee Doodle song explanation was awesome! You made your blog incredibly interesting with your facts. I also like that you narrowed down the topic to just the American Revolution; I used both the French and American Revolution and I think you made a wise decision. It was much more easy to follow.

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