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McGuigan Collection of John Gadsby Chapman Etchings

Call Number

PR 265


[1838-1845], inclusive



1.75 Linear feet (3 boxes, 1 folder)

Language of Materials

English .


John Gadsby Chapman, primarily a painter of history, moved to New York City in 1834 and found success as a book illustrator. This collection includes more than 200 artist proof etchings for several of the titles he illustrated, as well as 8 lithographs and 1 oil sketch.

Biographical Note

John Gadsby Chapman was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1808. He studied painting in Philadelphia before traveling to Europe in 1828. Chapman spent almost two years in Italy, studying and copying the masters. In 1831 he returned to Virginia and traveled throughout the state, painting portraits and landscapes, especially of places relating to George Washington.

Until his move to New York in 1834, Chapman worked primarily as a painter of history. While he had some success, with paintings such as The Baptism of Pocahontas in 1840, he became most well known through his book illustration. His first major success with illustration came with his etchings for the book A Christmas Gift from Fairy Land, written by James Kirke Paulding. These illustrations, along with his etchings for John Keese's book, The Poets of America: Illustrated by One of Her Painters, are often considered some of his finest work.

Chapman also worked on the highly illustrated Harper's Illuminated Bible, published in 1843. Of the bible's 1,600 engravings, (excluding the letters), 1,400 were done by Chapman. He also created 1,078 floriated letters used to begin each chapter.

While continuing to paint and create illustrations, Chapman wrote and illustrated an instructional book on drawing titled The American Drawing-Book. While popular, the book cost him more money than it made. With this type of poor business decision, an impractical nature and general ill health, Chapman was in a constant state of debt throughout his life. By 1848, these factors led Chapman to leave the United States with his wife and children and sail for London. They traveled through Europe before settling in Rome in 1850, remaining there for the next 32 years.

Although he enjoyed the climate and lifestyle of Rome, Chapman wasn't able to improve his financial standing. By 1864, he found himself destitute. Chapman returned to the United States in 1877, where he attempted to restore his career. Unfortunately he never pulled himself out of dept, relying on his children for support. He lived in each, residing in Brooklyn, Mexico, and finally Staten Island, where he died in 1889. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery.


John Gadsby Chapman: Painter and Illustrator. (Washington: National Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, c1962)Campbell, William Pardee, 1914-1976. John Gadsby Chapman., Unpublished manuscript, Archives of American Art, c1960.


The collection is arranged by first by publication then by the order they appear in each book. The unidentified etchings are filed at the end. A separate folder holds the larger, loose sheet of text.

Scope and Content Note

The McGuigan Collection of John Gadsby Chapman Etchings contains 229 artist proof etchings, 8 lithographs, and 1 oil sketch, the majority of which were used as book illustrations. Most prints are mounted on board and are no larger than 5.25" x 7". The collection also contains one loose sheet, with portions of three poems from John Keese's book, The Poets of America: Illustrated by One of Her Painters. There is what appears to be the beginning of a graphite drawing following one of these poems.

Etchings from the following books are represented in this collection: A Christmas Gift from Fairy Land, by James Kirke Paulding; Volume 1 of The Poets of America: Illustrated by One of Her Painters, by John Keese; and Grammatical Reader Nos. I and II, by Edward Hazen. Proof prints for most, but not all, of the illustrations in these books can be found in this collection. Also included are the floriated letters used to begin new chapters ofHarper's Illuminated Bible, published by Harper & Brothers.

There are also several etchings from unidentified publications. This includes the 8 lithographs of religious subjects. There are color prints for the Holy Communion, Confession and so on.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. See guidelines in Print Room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from:
Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 270
Fax: (212) 579-8794

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: The McGuigan Collection of John Gadsby Chapman Etchings, PR 265, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.


The collection was a gift of Mary K. and John F. McGuigan, Jr. in 2007 and 2015.

Related Material at the New-York Historical Society

Several books containing Chapman's illustrations can be found in the general collection and three paintings reside in the museum collection.

Collection processed by

Kelly McAnnaney

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 15:49:18 -0400.
Language: Description is in English.

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived from chapman.xml


New-York Historical Society
New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024