( 1842-1910 )

Conrad Wise Chapman

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Among Southern artists of the Civil War years, Conrad Wise Chapman was considered the principal painter of the Confederacy. Chapman's paintings, particularly those executed in the vicinity of Charleston, South Carolina, depict the everyday events, duties and settings of military life.

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1842, Conrad Chapman was the son of Virginia-born expatriate artist John Gadsby Chapman. He spent much of his youth in Rome, where he was trained in large part by his father. Despite his European upbringing, Chapman acquired a love of the South, and returned to Virginia in 1861 at the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted in the Confederate army, and his fellow soldiers soon nicknamed him "Old Rome."

At Shiloh, Chapman received head wounds when his weapon exploded during reloading, and was transferred to Charleston, due in part to family connections. He was attached to the staff of General P.G.T. Beauregard, who ordered him to illustrate the city's forts and batteries.

Chapman's sketches, executed between September, 1863 and March, 1864, form the basis for 31 small oil on board paintings. These panels record various military installations, including Battery Marshall, Sullivan's Island (1863, Valentine Museum), Submarine Torpedo Boat (1863-1864, Museum of the Confederacy) and Fort Sumter Interior (1864, Valentine Museum). These painterly renderings, important as historical documents, are noted for their clarity of color, strong contrasts and deep perspective.

After General Lee's surrender in 1865, Chapman decided to join the Confederate General Magruder in supporting the Mexican Emperor Maximillian; however, Chapman remained in Mexico for several years. Enamored of the Mexican landscape, the artist painted an impressive, 14-foot panoramic view entitled Valley of Mexico (1866, Valentine Museum). This work is considered one of the finest paintings of Mexican terrain, and has been compared to works by Mexico's great nineteenth-century landscapist Jose Maria Velasco.

Much of Chapman's later life was spent in Mexico, where he worked as an itinerant artist who painted directly on photographs. He died in 1910.

The Art Analog, p. 414.              

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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