CHAPMAN, John Gadsby
c. 1950. Hand-coloured mezzotint, engraved by Charles Stuart. Beautifully printed in the mid-20th century from the original 19th century copper plate, with wide margins, on hand-made paper. Image size (including text): 19½ x 13½ inches. Sheet size: 33 x 26 1/2 inches.
A striking and lovely image of a central figure in the mythology of the American West.
Davy Crockett (1786-1836) remains the archetype of the early American frontiersman: fighting Indians, guiding settlers, and leading cattle. Though tied to the land that he helped to tame, Crockett was an active volunteer in the War of 1812, serving as a scout for General Jackson's army. Later, he became involved in politics and served in the Tennessee state legislature, 1822-1827. Crockett held a seat in Congress from 1827 until 1835, when he joined the movement for Texan Independence, and met his death in 1836 during the heroic defense of the Alamo.
John Gadsby Chapman (1808-1889) had met Crockett in the early 1830s and had painted a portrait study. Crockett's death defending the Alamo in 1836 immediately made him a national hero, and Chapman worked up a full-length portrait. This was exhibited in the fall of 1838 at the Apollo Gallery, an exhibition space which had just been founded in New York by a group of artists including Chapman.
This painting was acquired for the State of Texas and hung in the State Capitol, where it was later destroyed when a fire consumed the building. Another version was obtained from the artist; this picture now hangs in the Harry Ranson Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.
The engraving states that it was published by the Apollo Gallery, New York, in 1839 (though this is a mid-20th century impression from the original plate). This is consistent with the entry in a catalogue issued by the Apollo Gallery in October 1839, which describes an engraved version (number 240). There was an engraver of portraits in mezzotint named Charles Stuart working in New York in 1841, who must be the engraver of this portrait.
In the portrait, Crockett stands in his buckskins, looking to his left, his right arm outstretched, holding his broad-brimmed hat. In his left arm he cradles a long rifle, and a knife is tucked into his belt. Three obedient dogs gaze up at him and he stands in a small clearing with a shock of wheat and some trees behind him.
The original 1839 version of this print is so rare as to be unobtainable, and is lacking from most major institutional collections. The last we can trace for sale was one offered by the Old Print Shop on the front cover of the Portfolio , in May 1963 for $ 200. (this at a time when the major Audubon prints were still in three figures).