Lot 41
  • 41

Jefferson David Chalfant

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Jefferson David Chalfant
  • The Old Flintlock (The Old Horse Pistol) 
  • signed Chalfant (upper center) and inscribed For the first time in nearly ten years/J.D. Chalfant is engaged on a study /in still life (center right); also titled "The Old Flintlock" and signed again JDChalfant (on the reverse)
  • oil on canvas
  • 25 by 17 inches
  • (63.5 by 43.2 cm)
  • Painted circa 1898.


George H. Ainslie, New York
Craig & Evans Art Galleries, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mrs. J. David Chalfant, Wilmington, Delaware
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York
Barbara Lassiter Millhouse, New York
James Maroney, New York
Jo Ann and Julian Ganz, Jr., Los Angeles, California 
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, New Century Club, May 1899
Newark, New Jersey, Newark Museum, Nature's Bounty and Man's Delight: American 19th Century Still Life Painting, 1958, no. 4, p. 11
Wilmington, Delaware, The Wilmington Society for the Fine Arts, Jefferson D. Chalfant (1856-1931), January-February 1959, no. 69
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Faces and Places, Changing Images of 19th Century America, December 1972-January 1973, no. 14, illustrated
Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Art Museum, 1977 (on loan)
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, The Brandywine River Museum; Newark, New Jersey, Newark Art Museum, Jefferson David Chalfant, June-November 1979, no. 30, pp. 14, 15, 33, 41, 43, illustrated
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art; West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Gallery and School of Art, More Than Meets the Eye, Art of The Trompe l'Oeil, December 1985-April 1986, no. 37, pp. 16, 77, 91, illustrated
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, May-September 1989


Alfred Frankenstein, After the Hunt, William Harnett and Other American Still Life Painters, 1870-1900, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California, 1953, p. 126, illustrated pl. 105
William H. Gerdts and Russell Burke, American Still-Life Painting, New York, 1971, p. 145, illustrated pl. 18
Joan H. Gorman, "Jefferson David Chalfant, Still Life and Genre Painter," Art & Antiques, July-August 1979, p. 108, illustrated
William H. Gerdts, Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life, 1801-1939, Columbia, Missouri, 1981, p. 190
William H. Gerdts, Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710-1920, New York, 1990, vol. 1, p. 307
Emily Dana Shapiro, "J.D. Chalfant's Clock Maker: The Images of the Artisan in a Mechanized Age," Art in America, fall 2005, vol. 19, no. 3, p. 48, illustrated 


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes, Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work has been restored and should be hung in its current condition. The tacking edges are still intact but have been reinforced. The reverse of the original canvas has been treated with a non-wax adhesive to provide some support. The original inscription is clearly visible on the upper center of the reverse. The paint layer is stable, clean and varnished. A few small isolated spots of retouching can be seen under ultraviolet light. There is no visible abrasion to any of the details of the flintlock, and the condition is very good overall.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

This lot will be accompanied by Chalfant's own pistol, which served as the model for this painting.  “[T]rompe l’oeil was a dangerously subversive art form that – by compelling us to contemplate its object-ness, the conditions of its making, and the mechanics of human perception – profoundly shattered our faith in our ability to recognize truths.”

(Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, “Trompe l’Oeil: The Underestimated Trick,” Deceptions and Illusions: Five Centuries of Trompe l’Oeil Painting, Washington, D.C., 2002, p. 18)

Jefferson David Chalfant focused on trompe l'oeil painting for only four years, creating about a dozen known paintings in the style and The Old Flintlock may be his final undertaking in the genre. This droll and masterfully rendered painting features the artist's own miquelet pistol hanging from a nail on a worn wooden panel. Chalfant's significant talent for trompe l’oeil as well as his eventual decision to move on are reflected in a review in The Morning News from 1899 that states: "In fact, the triumph of 'The Old Horse Pistol' [The Old Flintlock] is so complete as to cause regret among the friends of Mr. Chalfant at his announced intention to abandon still-life portrayal for more varied forms of artistic genius" (in Joan H. Gorman, Jefferson David Chalfant, 1979, p. 15). That The Old Flintlock may have been Chalfant's final trompe l'oeil painting is particularly ironic when one reads the contents of the fragment of newsprint in the lower right quadrant of the picture, which contains the notice: "For the first time in nearly ten years J.D. Chalfant is engaged on a study in still life." The fictitious item is evidence of the wit that was often a signature component of trompe l'oeil constructions.  Chalfant, following in this tradition, often borrowed his arrangements from William Michael Harnett, one of the genre's most popular contemporaneous practitioners. Harnett's the Faithful Colt (1890, Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art) also shows a weapon hanging from a wooden backdrop, but its subject seems modern compared to Chalfant's ancient pistol. Flintlock arms were introduced around 1630, and quickly became the mainstay of European armies for the next two centuries. By the time of the Civil War, however, flintlocks were nearly obsolete, replaced by more efficient pistols like Harnett's revolver. The choice of such a sentimental weapon imbues The Old Flintlock with a sense of nostalgia that is cleverly contrasted by the seemingly "untouched" appearance of the surface, which makes the painting seem as if it were somehow the mechanically-produced product of a modern age. Ironically it is the replicated fragment of printed paper that mischievously hints at Chalfant's role in the painting's creation. Chalfant's The Old Flintlock masterfully juxtaposes the old and the new, the real and the reproduced, the hand-crafted and the manufactured. The painting is a superlative example of the witty game in which perception is tested and "paradox rules."