Born in Washington, D.C., Conrad Wise Chapman underwent his artistic training in Rome under the tutelage of his father, who was also an artist. Better known for his depictions of scenes of the U.S. Civil War, in which he participated on the side of the southern Confederacy, the painter traveled through Mexico between 1865 and 1866. One of his preferred subjects on this trip was the Valley of Mexico, which he painted on several occasions, some on site and others from sketches, notes, and his own memory.
The lower half of this view is occupied by human figures: to the left, women and children are relaxing or doing domestic chores around the precarious encampment, and to the right, men are working under the sun in the open fields.
In the upper center of the painting, the broad landscape of the valley unfolds: the plains are sprinkled here and there with low-lying buildings, and the water, mountains, and sky pass in succession as the viewer’s gaze stretches toward the horizon, producing an effect of serene immensity. This inhabited landscape contrasts with the vision of other landscape painters, who privileged the presence of untouched American nature in their works.