|Born in Alexandria, Virginia, John Gadsby Chapman was a highly productive painter, illustrator, and engraver*, living primarily as an expatriate* in Italy. He was a student of Charles Bird King in Washington DC, worked briefly as a professional artist in Winchester, Virginia, and was enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts* in Philadelphia. However, as a young man, he left for Italy, studying in Rome and Florence, and returning to America in 1831. |
In the U.S., he became a reputable portrait and history painter, living between New York and Washington D.C. One of his best known works is a large, highly colorful mural, The Baptism of Pocahontas, which is in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, and which brought him great renown for its placement in such a distinguished location. The work is described as "though lacking in monumentality, it is the most luminous* and colorful of the Rotunda pictures."
John Chapman also did about 1400 illustrations for Harper's Family Bible, published in 1846 with wide readership. His own American Drawing Book "was probably the most popular of all the 'how-to-it' art books of the 19th century."
From 1848 to 1889, he lived in Italy almost until his death, doing color etchings of Rome and landscape painting. These "compagna" paintings were popular with American tourists because they were cheerful and descriptive with colorful images of paintings in bucolic surroundings.
Conrad Wise Chapman and John Linton Chapman were landscape painters and sons of John Gadsby Chapman.
Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art, pp. 66-67
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