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, notably the sculptors Thomas Crawford and William Wetmore Story and the painters George Loring Brown and Cephas Giovanni Thompson. 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 as secretary to Bishop Patrick Neeson Lynch, President Jefferson Davis’ commissioner to the papal states. 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. 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. The expense of his hospitalization contributed to a sharp decline in the family fortunes. 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.
While in Italy, Conrad Chapman, along with his father and brother, enjoyed regular patronage from American tourists who were fascinated by local color and ancient ruins. In response, the family of artists executed landscapes and paintings featuring the terrain and inhabitants of the Roman Campagna and the Appian Way, ideal souvenirs of the rich Italian scene. Though numerous examples of his father and brother’s Campagna scenes survive, few by Conrad are known to exist. View of Italy exhibits the clear light and warm color contrasts between the verdure of the land and the costumes of the peasantry characteristic of the Chapman style.