Chapman painted Harvesting on the Roman Campagna midway through his thirty-four-year stay in Italy, where he retired with the proceeds from his highly popular instruction manual, The American Drawing Book (1847). The artist settled in Rome in 1850, eventually becoming the unofficial dean of the...
Chapman painted Harvesting on the Roman Campagna midway through his thirty-four-year stay in Italy, where he retired with the proceeds from his highly popular instruction manual, The American Drawing Book (1847). The artist settled in Rome in 1850, eventually becoming the unofficial dean of the American expatriate community. American and British tourists frequented his studio, where they could purchase as mementos small paintings or inexpensive prints hand-colored in oil by Chapman, showing scenes of peasants and the Italian countryside. Well-heeled travelers might also commission replicas of the larger canvases that were on display. Nineteenth-century critic Henry T. Tuckerman mentioned a few of these studio pictures in his Book of the Artists: “a ‘Sunset on the Campagna,’ very rich in coloring, the higher clouds perhaps a trifle hard; a ‘Harvest Scene,’ also on the Campagna, full of bright light and life, and of the expression of Italian customs and character centuries behind the age.”  Chapman’s format, a six-foot-long (1.8-meter-long) canvas with an arched top, was perfectly suited to his panoramic view of the Campagna, the fertile plain south and southeast of Rome. Chapman’s expansive canvases may derive from the theatrical panoramas that were popular in the mid-nineteenth century and which influenced Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church, and Albert Bierstadt [47.1257] to paint large horizontal works that fulfilled the public’s desire to learn about foreign lands and remote corners of their own continent.  Chapman’s sons, John Linton Chapman and Conrad Wise Chapman, also used this format for their own compositions. Robert O. Fuller, a wealthy metal manufacturer and state senator from Cambridge, Massachusetts, ordered this version of Harvesting on the Roman Campagna during his visit to Rome in 1867. After returning to the United States, Fuller received the painting in a carved and gilded Italian frame festooned with sheaves of wheat, tambourines, jugs, rakes, baskets, scythes, shovels, and vines. Along with it, Chapman sent Fuller a letter describing the process of bringing in the grain; an engraving [1973.281] that the artist had made after the painting, on which he identified the mountain and towns depicted in the background; and a sample of the actual grain. Chapman set his lively scene against the Alban Hills and towns, including Monte Cavo in the right background, Rocca di Papa in front of it, and Tusculum to the left. He accurately portrayed the migrant harvesters, who usually traveled from the surrounding mountains for the work. They lived in temporary shelters, visible in the lower left, “which,” Chapman explained in a letter to Fuller, “they erect on the spot of their labor and mov[e] with the succession of crops as they ripen from the coast towards the mountains.” Chapman wrote, “Women . . . are rarely seen . . . except bringing provisions, fruit, etc. for the hands”; two colorfully dressed women thus engaged are depicted in the lower right. “Water is abundantly supplied—generally by boys on donkeys,” he added; they are visible at lower left. Chapman described the process of getting out the grain, which he showed in his picture. On the far right, teams of oxen pull wagons piled high with sheaves of wheat that have been cut in the fields; the sheaves in the right foreground are ready to be processed. Nearby, the overseer’s messenger, dressed in a suit under an umbrella and astride a horse, speaks with one of the workers. The horses in the middle of the painting, tethered together in groups of six with a handler, trample the wheat, which separates the grain from the straw. Meanwhile, Chapman wrote, “while a floor is being trodden out, the hands attached to it are off duty and pass the time—Italian fashion—in sleeping, eating or in diversion.” He showed a group playing cards on the extreme left and others sleeping in a tent and in a wheelbarrow. Chapman continued, “The straw is then raked off and the grain carried in barrows to the great pile, opposite the hut of the overseer-in-chief, who sits under his arbor taking note of everything and with his messenger and horse ready to convey an order.” Beyond the overseer’s arbor, Chapman depicted the laborers bagging the grain before it is sent to the granaries in Rome. The grain harvesting described verbally and pictorially by Chapman had “prevailed in the Roman Campagna for many centuries.” Chapman was aware that the “harvest boys” earned just 10¢ per day and that the farmers rented large tracks of land from “princely estates,” but other than showing workers in ragged clothing, Chapman probably did not intend his painting to be a comment on the inequities between wealthy landowners and laborers. Nor was he determined to glorify the peasant as French artist Jean-François Millet had done in the 1850s when he endowed his monumental gleaners [76.440] and sowers [17.1485] with great dignity. Chapman seems to have been fascinated with the actual process of bringing in the grain. He was deeply interested in the methods and procedures of many kinds of work and demonstrated his abilities in a variety of artistic media. Tuckerman noted that Chapman was “familiar with all the processes of the artisan as well as those of the artist; now at work on a mezzotint and now on a woodcut; to-day casting an iron medallion, and to-morrow etching on steel; equally at home at the turning-lathe and the easel, and as able to subdue plaster and bronze, as oils and crayons, to his uses . . . we know of no individual who so rarely combines mechanical ingenuity with artistic taste.” Chapman was also eager to teach and to transmit his knowledge of the methods involved in producing art; his popular American Drawing Book included instruction on painting, etching, engraving, and modeling. He may also have determined that the accurate depiction of the procedures involved in the grain harvest might appeal to his patrons, who were often wealthy manufacturers. And he knew that a picturesque panorama with exotic Italian peasants working in the limpid light of the Roman countryside would almost certainly be cherished by visitors. In December 1859, a correspondent for the magazine Crayon summed up the appeal of Chapman’s work: [Block quote] During Mr. Chapman’s residence abroad he has been faithfully at work; he has explored the environs of Rome for artistic material, and has made himself thoroughly acquainted with the people and scenery of that region, the result of which is a series of pictures of Italian life, character, and landscape in almost every style of art. Few of his works are visible in our exhibitions; but they are widely distributed through the country. Travellers possess them to the greatest extent. His compositions illustrate the picturesque aspects of Italian peasant life, associated with the ruins of the Campagna and with the landscape charms of the mountains near Rome, and they constitute some of the most prized souvenirs of an American traveller’s sojourn in Italy.  [/Block quote] Chapman’s images of harvesting on the Campagna did indeed prove to be a popular souvenir for wealthy American travelers; the artist eventually completed at least nine commissions for replicas of the scene, although they are not all exactly alike. In addition to the MFA’s painting, there are five known full-size versions: Harvesters on the Roman Campagna (1867, original patron unkown, now Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), Harvest on Roman Campagna (1870, for Hugh T. Dickey, Esq., of Chicago and New York, now Tudor Gallery, Richmond, Virginia), Harvest on the Roman Campagna (1871, for Mrs. A. Tilden, N.Y., now Newark Museum, New Jersey), Harvest on the Roman Campagna (1871, for E. P. C. Lewis, Esq., V., now Adams Davidson Galleries, Washington, D.C.), and Harvest on the Roman Campagna (about 1871, original patron unknown, now Vulcan Materials Company, Birmingham, Alabama). Harvest on the Campagna (1857, for F. E. Richmond, Providence, R.I., now Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond) is the earliest and smallest painting of the group, and its composition differs in the arrangement of elements. Threshing Wheat on the Campagna (1868, for H. B. Hurlbut, Esq., Cleveland, Ohio, now Cleveland Museum of Art) is a half-size version of the painting. In 1866, a composition entitled Harvesting on the Campagna, near Rome was loaned to an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts by W. G. Moorhead; this version has not yet been identified. The MFA’s Harvesting on the Roman Campagna remained in the Fuller family until it was purchased by the MFA in 1972. A photograph taken in about 1880 of the painting hanging in the drawing room of the Fullers’ Cambridge residence was given to the Museum at the time of the purchase (see Overview section). Notes 1. Henry T. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists (New York: G. P. Putnam & Son, 1867), 221. 2. Matthew Baigell, Dictionary of American Art (London: John Murray, 1979), 67, 262–63. 3. All quotes from Chapman from John Gadsby Chapman to Robert O. Fuller, December 1867, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Department of the Art of the Americas curatorial object file (1972.982). 4. Tuckerman, Book of the Artists, 218. 5. Crayon, December 1859, 379–80. Janet L. Comey
Lower left, on wheelbarrow: JGC/Roma 1867 [JGC in monogram]
1867, commissioned by Robert O. Fuller (1830-1903), Cambridge, Mass.; descended in the family; 1972, with Childs Gallery, Boston; 1972, sold by Childs Gallery to the MFA. (Accession Date: December 13, 1972)
Seth K. Sweetser Fund