Trenton can celebrate George Washington’s birthday, February 22, by celebrating Wells Fargo’s donation of a historic painting depicting the Revolutionary War hero and first U.S. president to Thomas Edison State University.
The painting has nothing to do with Washington’s famous Christmas Day Battle of Trenton but commemorates what is revealed in its title: “Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton on his way to New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency of the United States.”
The 17-foot-tall by 12-foot-wide oil-on-canvas mural by American illustrator and painter N.C. Wyeth was commissioned in 1930 by First Mechanics National Bank (a legacy company of Wells Fargo). Displayed at the former bank’s headquarters for decades, it was a familiar and beloved Trenton attraction.
When Wells Fargo moved from the corner of 1 West State Street, its new space was unable to accommodate the mural, and its future in Trenton became uncertain.
In 2013 officials representing Wells Fargo and the State of New Jersey, along with other community members, found a location for it at Thomas Edison State University, where the work was on loan, and had remained on view on West State Street.
In November, 2019, Wells Forgo transferred ownership of the painting. Its Sotheby’s-appraised value of $4 million makes the painting the gift of largest financial value in the university’s history.
N.C. Wyeth (1882 to 1945) is one of America’s most famous artists and illustrators, creating more than 3,000 paintings and murals and more than 100 books. He is also the father of famed American artist Andrew Wyeth and grandfather to another noted painter, Jamie Wyeth.
The Brandywine, Pennsylvania-based artist visited Trenton and did research at the Trenton Free Public Library, which owns a portion of the ceremonial arch through which Washington passed and which is depicted in the mural.
The dates seen on the image — Dec. 26, 1776, and Jan. 2, 1777 — commemorate Washington’s victories over British forces in the two Battles of Trenton — events that turned the tide in favor of the Americans in their struggle for independence from England.
The painting can be seen in Thomas Edison State University’s Great Hall, 111 W. State St.