Jefferson David Chalfant
Chalfant was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania but moved in young adulthood to Wilmington, Delaware, where he would spend the rest of his life. Employed by a commercial firm as a painter of parlor car interiors, he began his activity as a fine artist in the early 1880s. Although he had no formal training, he quickly developed a fine technique. His early works are mostly still lifes and landscapes, which sold well to private collectors.
Chalfant exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design, and elsewhere. In 1890, he was able to travel to Paris for two years, where he studied figure painting under Adolphe-William Bouguereau and Jules Joseph Lefebvre. This served him well during a career in which he painted genre, portraits and other subjects, but it is his still lifes which may be his signal achievement.
His still lifes are painted in the illusionistic trompe l'oeil (literally, "fool the eye") manner popularized in the late nineteenth century by William Michael Harnett. Harnett inspired many followers, the best known being John F. Peto, but few, if any, had Chalfant's technical finesse. Often, Chalfant's compositions closely follow prototypes by Harnett, but Chalfant usually simplifies, eliminating secondary objects and details. An example is his Violin and Bow (1889) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Although he was only slightly younger than Harnett and Peto, he outlived both of them by many years, and continued painting until 1927, when he had a stroke. He died in Wilmington in 1931.
- Frankenstein, Alfred (1970). The Reality of Appearance. Greenwich: New York Graphic Society. ISBN 0-8212-0357-6
- Wilmerding, John (1983). Important Information Inside. New York: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-438941-3
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- American paintings & historical prints from the Middendorf collection, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Chalfant (no. 48-49)
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