Conrad Wise Chapman "Talented Confederate Artist" February 14, 1842 - December 10, 1910
Conrad Wise Chapman was born in Washington, DC, in 1843, the son of John Gadsby Chapman, an accomplished artist from Virginia. When Conrad was six, the family moved to Rome, Italy, where the boy eventually became an artist under his father's tutelage. Virginia-born John Chapman had instilled in his son such a great love of Virginia that Conrad returned to enlist in his father's home state when the Civil War began. Unable to reach Virginia, however, he enlisted in company D, 3rd Kentucky as a private on September 30, 1861.
Chapman proved to be a much better artist than soldier. In April 1862 at Shiloh, his regiment's first battle, Chapman accidentally wounded himself in the head. After recuperating he was transferred to Virginia at the request of a family friend, Ge. Henry A. Wise. There the likeably eccentric Chapman served as an ordnance sergeant.
When Chapman's regiment was transferred to Charleston, SC, defenses, Wise convinced Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to detail the young artist to document in paintings the siege and the Confederacy's gallant efforts. Chapman bravely ignored shells exploding around him as he sketched the bombardment of Charleston's fortifications.
In the spring of 1864 Chapman returned to Rome on furlough to be with his sick mother. While there he painted a series of canvases taken from his battle sketches that can be viewed today in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA. Returning to the Confederacy just as Lee surrendered, Chapman joined a group of ex-Confederates and went to Mexico for a year.
Chapman did not achieve the commercial success his artistic talents warranted. After the war he painted in Rome, Paris, London and New York, struggling with ill health, poverty, and a three-year period of insanity. He eventually settled in Hampton, VA, and painted until his death in 1910.
Fascinating Fact: Chapman's painting of his Kentucky regiment in camp became famous in 1871 when reproduced as a chromolithograph. The original work (in which the artist portrayed himself as the bored sentry) was recently found in a shed in Oregon.
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