John F. McGuigan Jr. and Mary K. McGuigan. 2015. Hardcover, 184 pp., illus. ISBN: 978-0-692-45493-0
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015941999
Available for purchase

John Gadsby Chapman (1808–1889) was one of nineteenth-century America’s most original and influential artists, and he is deservedly well regarded today for his paintings, drawings, book illustrations, and writing. In contrast, his accomplishments as America’s first artist-etcher—that is to say, the first to design and execute his own etchings—have been largely overlooked until now. This monograph is the first to appear on the Virginia-born Chapman for more than half a century and the first ever to consider the totality of his etching career and situate it within the broader context of his personal life and painting practice. Readers familiar with Chapman’s mural The Baptism of Pocahontas in the U.S. Capitol, his more than 1,400 designs for Harper Brothers’ landmark Illuminated Bible (1846), his American Drawing-Book (1847), and oeuvre of Grand Tour paintings will be delighted to learn more about his prolonged commitment to fine art etching.

The full-color volume includes an illustrated catalogue of forty-three original etchings of Italian subjects that Chapman produced over a span of more than fifty years, from his student days in Rome from 1828 to 1830 to his lengthy residence in Italy from 1849 to 1881, and includes four that he made after paintings by his sons John Linton Chapman (1839–1905) and Conrad Wise Chapman (1842–1910). Sixty-nine figures and gorgeous full-page details complement the text and augment our understanding of the Chapman family of painters. The present study will be of note to anyone interested in international 19th-century print culture and is especially timely and relevant in light of recent scholarship that seeks to redress the teleological tendency to privilege photography as the modern, authoritative standard against which all reproductive media are measured.

Contents include: 1. Early Life and Tutelage; 2. A Roman Education; 3. The Great Mart of Mammon; 4. Yearning for Italy; 5. Civil War Years; 6. An Etching Revival; 7. Dénouement; Afterword; Catalogue of the Italian Etchings of John Gadsby Chapman; Appendix: “Etchings and Engravings of Original Designs and Other Plates,” John Gadsby Chapman’s Handwritten Memoranda.