Conrad Wise Chapman (1842-1910)
Oil on paper
8.5″ x 11.5″
The son of the artist John Gadsby Chapman, Conrad Wise Chapman was born in Washington, D.C., but spent the majority of his youth in Rome, Italy. There, his art education was overseen by his father and nurtured by the extended community of American expatriate artists. Though living abroad, young Conrad was deeply versed in Southern tradition, so much so that in 1861 he felt compelled to join the Confederate cause, later writing that a “duty more sacred than even family ties rose to bid me move forward and meet whatever my fate might be.” As a member of Kentucky’s famous “Orphan Brigade,” Chapman suffered a serious head wound during the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh, an injury that would plague him for the rest of his life.
During Chapman’s recuperation in the summer of 1862, General P. G. T. Beauregard commissioned him to create a series of works illustrating the siege of Charleston. The resulting group of paintings provided the most detailed images of Confederate forces produced by a painter in the South. In March 1864, Chapman returned to Rome. Although he tried to rejoin Confederate forces in March 1865, a blockade resulted in a lengthy detour to Mexico, where he remained until 1866, painting several large panoramas of the countryside which account for some of his best received work. For the next few years, Chapman worked on commissions and speculation in Rome, Paris and London, during which time he painted this gem-like portrait of peaches hanging on a branch. While living in London in 1871, he suffered a mental breakdown—perhaps as a result of his war injuries—and was confined to an asylum. For the balance of his years, Chapman would alternate between periods of mental, physical, professional and financial instability, prompting a series of moves between Mexico and the United States, often relying on the generosity of others to support him.