Father and Son: The Works of
John Gadsby Chapman and Conrad Wise Chapman
|Father and Son: The Works of John Gadsby Chapman and Conrad
Wise Chapman, an exhibition on display at the Library of
Virginia from 16 October 1998 to 22 March 1999, presented more than
one hundred sketches, watercolors, engravings, and oils by these two
Virginia artists for the first time since the 1960s. The exhibition
consisted of three sections: John Gadsby Chapman's work as a leading
illustrator in the 1830s and 1840s; scenes of Italy and France by
both Chapmans; and oils and watercolors of Mexico by Conrad Wise
Chapman. Lenders to the exhibition included the Valentine Museum,
the Jamestown-Yorktown Educational Trust, and Mr. and Mrs. Robert
|Born in Alexandria in 1808, John Gadsby Chapman
studied painting briefly in Philadelphia before traveling to Europe
in 1828, where he spent almost two years in Italy. He returned to
Alexandria in 1831 and exhibited paintings in Alexandria,
Washington, D.C., Richmond, Boston, and Philadelphia. Chapman
traveled in Virginia, painting portraits and landscapes, especially
of places relating to George Washington. In 1834 he settled in New
York City where he became a member of the National Academy of Design
and developed into a popular illustrator.
John Gadsby Chapman in His Studio, 1881. Engraving.
Courtesy of the Valentine Museum.
The Baptism of Pocahontas, 1840. By John Gadsby Chapman.
Engraving. The Library of Virginia.
|John Gadsby Chapman produced a number of history
paintings based on the English settlement at Jamestown. Both The
Crowning of Powhatan and The Warning of Powhatan were
exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1836. His
Landing at Jamestown and The Crowning of Powhatan were
later engraved in the 1840s for popular magazines. Chapman's friend
Henry Alexander Wise had introduced a resolution in the United
States House of Representatives in 1834 to form a committee to
select American artists to complete the United States Capitol
Rotunda cycle begun by John Trumbull. On 28 February 1837 the Select
Committee chose John Vanderlyn, Robert Weir, Henry Inman, and John
G. Chapman to paint scenes from American history. According to his
contract, Chapman received $10,000 in four payments. The finished
painting, The Baptism of Pocahontas, was unveiled on 30
November 1840 and was accompanied by a pamphlet explaining the
artist's approach to the subject and a brief history of Pocahontas
and the Jamestown colony.
|The Chapman family--John, wife Elizabeth, daughter Mary, and
sons John Linton and Conrad--left for Europe in 1848 and settled
in the small American colony in Rome in 1850. Although removed
from American collectors who frequented the National Academy of
Design and artists' studios and publishers in need of
illustrations for magazines and books, Chapman responded to the
growing American tourist trade in Italy by painting small oils of
Italians in colorful costumes and scenes of the Campagna.
Chapman's fortunes took a dramatic downward slide, however, when
the American Civil War brought the tourist trade to a virtual
standstill and son Conrad left to fight for the Confederacy.
The Chapman family fell apart in the 1870s. Conrad wandered in
Mexico and France, John Linton (known as Jack) returned to New
York City in 1878, Elizabeth Chapman died in Rome in 1874, and
John G. Chapman became dependent on support from his compatriots.
In 1884 Chapman, in poor health, returned to the United States. He
visited Conrad in Mexico, but lived the rest of his life with Jack
in Brooklyn. John Gadsby Chapman died in 1889 and was buried in a
Grain Threshing on the Campagna, 1881.
By John Gadsby Chapman.
Oil over engraving. Courtesy of the Valentine Museum.
Picket Post, 1863. By Conrad Wise Chapman.
Engraving. Courtesy of the Valentine Museum.
|Born in Washington, D.C., in 1842 and named to honor two of his
father's friends, Conrad Wise Chapman began his career as an
artist in 1855. He ran away from home in 1861 to fight for the
Confederacy and served in a Kentucky regiment. Conrad was wounded
at Shiloh and saw action in Mississippi and Louisiana before
receiving a transfer to Virginia late in 1862. His father wrote
Henry Alexander Wise, an old friend and then a commander of the
59th Virginia Infantry Regiment, to take Conrad under his
protection. Chapman was transferred to the 46th Virginia, and when
the regiment was stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1863,
Chapman painted and sketched the city's fortifications and
Valley of Mexico, 1902. By Conrad Wise
Oil on wood. Courtesy of the Valentine Museum.
|He spent a six-month furlough in Rome in 1864 but returned to
Virginia shortly after Lee surrendered. Unable to reconcile
himself to the South's defeat, Chapman traveled to Mexico and,
enchanted by the scenery and people, painted a series of views of
the Valley of Mexico. After spending time in France and England,
Chapman returned to Mexico in 1883. To support himself and his
wife, Laura Seagar Chapman, Conrad colored photographs and painted
variations of his earlier Valley of Mexico views. The Chapmans
moved to Richmond in 1898, where Conrad sold 31 paintings of
Charleston Harbor during the Civil War to Granville G. Valentine
for the Confederate Literary Society (now the Museum
of the Confederacy). The couple drifted between Mexico and New
York until they settled in Hampton, Virginia, in 1909. Conrad Wise
Chapman died in Hampton on 10 December 1910. His widow donated his
paintings and sketches to the Virginia State Library, which in
1941 traded the collection to the Valentine
Museum for newspapers and manuscript materials.
Bassham, Ben L. Conrad Wise Chapman: Artist &
Soldier of the Confederacy.
Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press,
Campbell, William P. John Gadsby Chapman, Painter and
Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1962.
Catterall, Louise F., ed. Conrad Wise Chapman
An Exhibition of His Works in the Valentine Museum.
Richmond: The Valentine Museum, 1962.