Middle Island’s Famous Artist

Footnotes to Long Island History

SEPT 1 1949


Thomas R. Bayles

       Alonzo chappel was born in 1829 in the city of New York .Of French descent he inherited from his forefathers a sunny, hopeful disposition, and at the early age of nine contributed a painting, "The Father of His Country," to the American Institute fair. At 12 years of age he was painting portraits at $10 each, but portrait painting was not his ambition.  Already, young as he was, he had acquired a taste for reading history, and with his mind filled with early events in the history of the United States, he found plenty of material for his inexperienced brush to try its skill upon.

       When he was about 21 his parents moved to Brooklyn and it was there he made the acquaintance of miss Almira Stewart, to whom he was married within a year, by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. He now redoubled his efforts and painted early and late and read everything he could get regarding his profession. At the age of 27 his work had attracted so much attention that Keith, a noted picture importer of that day, offered him $7,000 a year to go to England and paint under his direction. This attractive offer was turned by Mr. Chappel, as he preferred to remain with young and enthusiastic painters who were giving expression to American art.

       Goupils old gallery on Broadway was in those days the popular place of exhibition for paintings, and it was there that several of Mr.. Chappel's paintings were observed by a Rev. Magoon of New York, who introduced him to the publishing house of Martin Johnson and Fry, who made a specialty of finely illustrated works. He was at once engaged to paint  the plates for a book in course of preparation, and his work was so satisfactory that he remained in the employ of that concern during his active life.

       The works illustrated by him were, "Spencer's history of the Untied States," "Schroeder's Life and Times of Washington," Dawson's Battles by Sea and Land," "Duyckink's National Portrait Gallery," "Duyckink's History of the Civil War," "Duyckink's Portrait Gallery of Prominent Men and Women of Europe and America."

Mr.. Chappel's time was not wholly devoted to illustrating, and he found time to paint "The Last Hours of Lincoln," a picture containing 40 figures taken from life, and a full length portrait of Salmon P Chase, painted in the  U.S. Treasury building. Another picture was one containing 75 figures representing a scene connected with the first celebration of Independence day in New York. Troops in Continental uniforms were depicted in the hollow square on the old Commons, with one of Washington's aids reading the Declaration of Independence to a patriotic crowd. Another famous picture of his was his painting of the "Battle of Long Island," which contained over 200 figures. The conflict is represented as raging about the Old Mill at Gowanus, a locality consecrated for all time by the blood of many patriots. Viewing  the painting, one can easily imagine himself looking down upon the battle itself.

       Mr. chappel seemed intuitively to understand a subject completely and to be possessed of the ability to portray the products of his imagination with striking effect. All of his pictures were readily comprehended in one view, and no written labels were necessary to explain the character of individual figures.

       In August, 1869 after the death of his wife, Mr. Chappel moved to Middle Island, and purchased a farm and homestead of 40 acres at the east end of the lake called "Artist's Lake" in his honor. Here he lived and continued his work of painting, together with his second wife, who was a sister if E.D Carpenter of New York, and with his four children.

       He died on December 4, 1887, and was buried in the cemetery opposite the Presbyterian church in Middle Island .

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