Although he struggled financially during his lifetime, Chapman led a distinguished artistic career. He studied in Washington, D.C., under Charles Bird King and then in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. In 1828 he traveled to Rome and Florence to continue his education. One of his European works was the first by an American to be engraved for distribution in Italy. In 1831 he returned to America, dividing his time between New York and Washington, exhibiting frequently, and gaining a reputation as a portrait painter. He also assumed a prominent role as a founding member of the Century Club in New York. Chapman is credited as the first popular book illustrator in America. He produced fourteen hundred wood engravings for Harper's Illuminated Bible (184346) and published The American Drawing-Book, which was reprinted several times from 1847 to 1858. His most notable achievements are his history paintings and portraits of famous American heroes. From 1849 to 1884 he lived in Europe. A visit to Mexico late in life suggests that he may have toured the West, and a recurring interest in Indian subjects is apparent in his work.
William Campbell, John Gadsby Chapman: Painter and Illustrator (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1962); Georgia Stamm Chamberlain, Studies on J. G. Chapman, American Artist, 1808–1889 (Annandale, Va.; Turnpike, 1963); Cosentino and Glassie, Capital Image, 44ndash;50, 235ndash;56.
William Truettner, ed The West as America: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier, 1820–1920 (Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991)