John Gadsby Chapman

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John Gadsby Chapman
A history of the rise and progress of the arts of design in the United States (1918) (14579368210).jpg
Born11 August 1808  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Alexandria   OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Died28 November 1889  OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg (aged 81)
Brooklyn   OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Style Italianization, history painting, genre painting, portrait   OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Children Conrad Wise Chapman   OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
Baptism of Pocahontas by John G. Chapman, 1840. Baptism of Pocahontas.jpg
Baptism of Pocahontas by John G. Chapman, 1840.

John Gadsby Chapman (December 3, 1808 – November 28, 1889) was an American artist famous for Baptism of Pocahontas , which was commissioned by the United States Congress and hangs in the United States Capitol rotunda.


Life and career

John Chapman was born in 1808 in Alexandria, Virginia. Chapman began his study of art in Philadelphia for two years, then departed for Europe where he eventually spent time in Italy. In 1831, Chapman returned to his hometown of Alexandria, and exhibited his artwork in the nearest metropolitan areas, such as Washington, D.C., Richmond, and Philadelphia. He specialized in landscapes and portraits.

By 1834, Chapman had moved to New York City and become a member of the National Academy of Design, and found work as an illustrator. In New York, Chapman embarked on a series of historical paintings, such as Landing at Jamestown and the Crowning of Powhatan. The success of these paintings helped Chapman land a commission from the United States Congress in February 1837 to paint a historical scene for the rotunda of the Capitol building. For this work, Chapman received a total payment of $10,000. On November 30, 1840, Baptism of Pocahontas was formally unveiled in the Capitol rotunda.

Besides historical paintings and portraits, Chapman also produced wood engravings and etchings, and frequently contributed illustrations to Harper Brothers' publications. Chapman's American Drawing Book, published in 1847, became a standard text for art students. [1]

On the swell of these successes, Chapman moved his family to Rome, and made an earnest living selling paintings of rural Campania to American visitors. However, at the onset of the American Civil War, the tourist industry dried up, affecting Chapman's fortunes greatly. In addition, Chapman's own son, Conrad Wise Chapman, returned to America to fight on the side of the Confederate States of America.

The economic deprivation inflicted on Chapman during the 1860s became insurmountable. In Rome, he was forced to live off the kindness of fellow expatriates, and finally returned to America, sick and poor, to spend his last days with another son, John Linton Chapman, in Brooklyn, New York. It was there, in 1889, that he died a pauper.


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  1. Chapman, J. G (January 1, 1847). The American drawing-book: a manual for the amateur, and basis of study for the professional artist: especially adapted to the use of public and private schools, as well as home instruction. J.S. Redfield. OCLC   730204.
  2. Chapman, John Gadsby (1848). "The elements of art: a manual for the amateur, and basis of study for the professional artist". David Bogue. Retrieved August 6, 2018.

Further reading

John F. McGuigan Jr. and Mary K. McGuigan, John Gadsby Chapman: America’s First Artist-Etcher. With a Catalogue of His Italian Etchings. Harpswell, ME: Arcady Editions, 2015.