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"The Relic Hunter" (1854) | Charles F. Blauvelt (American, 1824–1900)

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"The Relic Hunter" (1854)

Oil on canvas | Signed lower left "Blauvelt 1854"

Item # 001PCX30W 

A rich scene executed in 1854 in oil on canvas by Charles Felix Blauvelt titled The Relic Hunter, the scene is large and bright and depicts an elderly man in the afternoon sun digging through the dirt with a small spade to find discarded objects in the soil. A similar work was painted by Blauvelt of the same title  [offered at Northeast Auctions 5 November 2005, lot 589], though the details of what the man discovers in the dirt include the remnants of a broken sword and a man's skull, suggestive of a duel or perhaps a murder.

The present work tells a different story through his discoveries, though the implements of conflict clearly remain the center of the work. The pile of relics beside the old man on a red cloth laid out upon the ground include a broken bayonet, an old pistol, a cannon ball and the hilt of a broken sword; in the dirt protrudes the back of a small cannon, while the man considers the powder striker from an old rifle in his hand.

There is a certain tired sadness in the kneeling man; light pours over him and finds focus almost entirely on these collected relics. The beauty of the ruins surrounding him create a lovely backdrop with grass and moss growing over them, but even these seem to only emphasize the passage of time since the horror of war visited this space.

The work is signed in the lower left corner "Blauvelt" and dated 1854. It has an old Sotheby's, New York label indicating it was offered as lot 465 at one point, though we have not found a record of that sale.

Measurements: 30 1/8" H x 24 7/8" W [canvas]; 41" H x 35 1/2" W x 3 1/4" D [frame]

Condition Report:
Professionally conserved, cleaned, fresh Damar varnish applied. Relined on new stretchers in the last quarter century. Period frame with inpainted losses throughout, large loss of applied gesso decoration along lower edge. Under UV examination shows old overpainting above the kneeling figure in the sky, a vertical line of filling and associated inpainting beneath his shoe, inpainted edge wear losses where the frame rubs, three spots of fillings and inpainting immediately left of the arched ruins; some light overpainting to blue "mountains" to figure's left and an inpainted scratch in those mountains; other minor spots of touch up. Painting is preserved in fine ready-to-place condition.