John Gadsby Chapman

(3 December 1808 - 28 November 1889)

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 historic 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 30th, 1840, 'The Baptism of Pocahontas' was formally unveiled in the Capitol rotunda.

On the swell of this success, Chapman moved his family to Rome, and made an earnest living selling paintings of rural Campagna 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 that he died a pauper.


John Gadsby Chapman, N. A. died at the home of his son, J. Linton Chapman, 215 Quincy Street, Brooklyn, on Thursday last. He was eighty-one years old. He was born in Alexandria, Virginia. At an early age he evinced a great talent for art and was sent to Italy to study. He was one of the founders of the Century Club and was elected a full member of the Academy of Design in 1836. For many years he gave instruction in wood engraving in this city with great success. In 1848 he returned to Italy and settled in Rome, where he lived until a few years ago.

Many of his works have wide reputations, such for instance as "The Baptism of Pocahontas," which hangs in the rotunda of the Capitol at Washington: "Sunset on the Campagna," "Etruscan Girl," "Vintage Scene," and "Stone Pines in the Barberini Valley." He has furnished illustrations for many books, among others for Harper's Bible. As an etcher from original designs he gained a reputation on "The Return from the Vintage," "A Monk Asking for Alms," "Italian Goatherds," "The Gleaner," "A View on the Campagna," and "The Departure of Sancho for the Government of His Island."

Obituary Published: November 30, 1889; Copyright © The New York Times div

Works of interest
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. G. Chapman, N. A., Vol. I. (1847)

Romance of Indian History, or, Thrilling incidents in the early settlement of America, [ca. 1835].

The illuminated Bible: containing the Old and New Testaments, translated out the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, with marginal readings, references, and chronological dates; also, the Apocrypha, to which are added a chronological index, an index of subjects contained in the Old and New Testaments, tables of weights, coins, measures, a list of proper names, a concordance, etc. Embellished with sixteen hundred historical engravings, by J. A. Adams, more than fourteen hundred of which are from original designs by J. G. Chapman. (1846)

The coronation of King George the fourth, engraved by J. Chapman from a painting by J. Fussell.

John Gadsby Chapman in His Studio, 1881. Engraving. Valentine Museum.