American Revolutionary War Artist Don Troiani

photo don trioani in his studio
American Revolution Artist Don Troiani in his studio.

The Real World of Don Troiani

One look at a stirring Don Troiani American battlefield painting and an important moment in American history, familiar only through reading and rote, becomes real. What was a gauzy mental narrative becomes a sharp three-dimensional visual image – vivid, detailed, intense. Through his remarkable visual imagery of time, place, and people, we experience American history as it was. Neither romanticized nor glorified, they often defy popular myth.

Don Troiani Painting
Lexington Green 19th of April 1775 by Don Troiani

What makes Don Troiani’s epic American Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War battle scene paintings so compelling? At first glance, it is his outstanding artistic talent and marvelous sense of battlefield action. There is, however, something more subtle – a remarkable realism, achieved through historical authenticity and an uncanny attention to the most minute of details.

Artist and Collector

Troiani’s approach to his art is legendary. The way he sees it, a painting of a moment in history must be accurate or it is not worth painting. His uncompromising demand for historical authenticity has led him on a parallel journey: artist and collector of American military artifacts.

His art and collecting are inseparable. They are part of his heritage. From his father, a noted commercial artist, came the gift of painting. He drew stick figures in kindergarten; doodles on everything in high school. Dissatisfied by the lack of emphasis on academic training in art school in the 1960s, Troiani taught himself and was mentored by some old-school illustrators.

Photo of Don Troiani
Portrait of Don Troiani

Troiani’s insistence on historical authenticity came from his experiences with the work of his mother, an antique dealer. Through her he learned the important role the three-dimensional reality of historical objects plays in the understanding of history. His focus on America’s military heritage began with his fascination with the detailed richness of his father’s World War II stories.

He started collecting at a young age. Like many 8 year olds, he collected toy soldiers and created fantastic imaginary battle scenes. While most boys move beyond this fascination, Troiani did not. A gift from his father, a Civil War Cavalry saber, fueled a nascent interest, and it was not long before his collecting began. As his knowledge of American military artifacts grew and matured, it evolved into what has become a personal collection of Civil War and Revolutionary War weapons, equipment, and clothing rivaling those in museums.

Over time, Troiani’s passion for collecting historical American military artifacts directed the course of his painting. First-hand knowledge became critical in his art, and the only way he could paint was to know objects inside and out. It is through this unique approach that his art presents historical truth.

From Concept to Canvas

With the demand he places on himself to achieve historical authenticity, years can pass between concept and canvas. He begins by researching all details of the subject of the painting: military equipment, weapons, horses, saddles, bridles, background, redoubts, battlefields, landscape, time of day, weather conditions, and period dress, down to the bits of lace and individual buttons. Historically correct artifacts are selected from his amazing personal collection. What he does not have, he is able to find through his network of collectors, curators and specialists.

Don Troiani Painting
Stand Your Ground Lexington Green by Don Troiani

Troiani examines the artifacts with his hands. He feels the texture, the substance, and sees how it works. He feels the softness of the wood of a rifle stock, rendered smooth by use. He handles a felt-like wool uniform jacket to see how the heavy fabric falls, how it drapes the body. He picks up a musket to understand how its weight and balance affect the way it is held at rest or in action. When artifacts are too valuable or delicate to be handled, he has reproductions made to enable them to be worn by fully dressed models he poses for his paintings.

To be able to paint the natural elements as they were – weather conditions, time of day, lighting – Troiani visits the area where the battle occurred, on the exact date at the exact time. He is on site a few days before and a few days after the event occurred to note the changing mood of the sky and how light plays on the terrain. He goes to great extremes to correctly portray battlefield locations which have not been preserved. Such was the case with his marvelous Concord Bridge. To get it right, with his brush he faithfully reconstructed the bridge and the entire background of stone walls and fences.

Inside the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

Troiani’s intimate knowledge of military artifacts and his sensitivity to their truth is evident in two of his paintings located in the entrance foyer of the Minuteman Theater of the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Each expresses a distinctly different mood of the men of the Lexington Company of the Middlesex County Brigade, Massachusetts Militia as they react to circumstances happening within just a few hours of each other in a critical moment in American history – the early morning of April 19, 1775, when actions taken led to the Revolutionary War and American Independence.

In Lexington Common, Captain John Parker’s hastily gathered militia waits, muskets in hand, for the anticipated arrival of 700 British Regulars. It is near dawn, silvery dark. Assembled on the Common in somber alertness, they face the road to Concord waiting for the unknown. Young William Diamond beats his drum in foreboding cadence.

Stand Your Ground is all color and action as Troiani’s amazing realism captures every detail of the opening volley of the American Revolution on Lexington Green, just after sunrise on the morning of April 19, 1775, as Captain Parker and his outnumbered militia face off with the British Regulars. In the forefront are Captain Parker’s militiamen – most of them local farmers, young and old, fathers and sons, each carrying “a good firearm” brought from home, often an American-made musket. Having been ordered by Parker to “Stand your ground,” and “Don’t fire unless fired upon,” and having just complied with a British order to disperse, there is a vulnerability, a hesitancy, and a measure of unusual calm in the body language of the militiamen as they react to the unexpected first shot from the British side, the “shot heard around the world.”

Some are firing, others re-loading. One seems hesitant, as if momentarily mentally processing the impact of what being fired upon first means: “If they meant to have a war, let it begin here.” Across the green, the British Regulars, under the command of Major John Pitcairn, advance towards them firing, with dreaded bayonets pointed, ready to take on a man. The first black powder smoke of battle begins to fill the air, and off in the distance, flanking columns of Redcoats advance.

Through Don Troiani’s dramatic battlefield compositions, viewers are not merely observers of history. His unique approach thrusts them right into an important moment in America’s history, compelling them to feel the battle, as it was.