Published: August 3, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Case Antiques
KNOXVILLE, TENN. – An abstract oil on canvas painting recently rediscovered as an original work by American artist Beauford Delaney (1901-1979) made a splash at Case Antiques Inc Auctions & Appraisals when it sold for $348,000 in the firm’s July 24-25 sale. The work came from a storage unit of the late Lois Imogene Delaney, the artist’s sister.
“We were called by the law firm that works with the Delaney family estate,” said Sarah Campbell Drury, vice president of fine and decorative arts at Case Antiques. “This work was one of two paintings left in a storage unit used by members of the Delaney family along with a work by Joseph Delaney, who vetted works by the artist until his death in 1991. It had not previously been identified as a Beauford Delaney, but when it came into our possession, Stephanie Case started to do some research on it and saw similarities between this and an example in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.”
The auction house started calling subject matter experts, including Steven Wicks, a curator at the Knoxville Museum of Art, which holds 67 works by Delaney. It also consulted with Jane Jacob of Jacob Fine Art, who appraised the example at SF MoMA, and Derek Spratley, the administrator of the artist’s estate. The consensus: though unsigned, this was an original, 67¾-by-51-inch painting by Delaney.
The work dates to the same period as the example in San Francisco, circa 1972.
“When you think of Beauford Delaney, you think of these atmospheric abstractions, these modernist urban scenes,” Drury said. “This is maybe not the image that jumps to mind when you think of his work, but in the last five or ten years of his career he became experimental. It sort of brings his career to a culmination. You think you know an artist, and then sometimes you have these artists who reinvent themselves as they go through life. He was capable of growth and creativity until the end.”
Another Black Tennessee artist, William Edmondson, found favor in the sale when his 12-3/8-inch-tall “Critter” sold for $120,000. The work was carved from limestone and is one of three examples of the form that Case has sold in the past ten years. Last year, the auction house sold another “Critter” for $66,000. On the difference between the prices, Drury related that the present example was in finer condition and it also competed with no other Edmondson works in the sale, whereas the other had.
“I’m thrilled to say this is going to a Nashville collector,” Drury said. Edmondson’s home was in Davidson County, which encompasses Nashville. The work had been consigned from a private collector.
“We didn’t set out to sell William Edmondson, but I’m so delighted these wonderful sculptures keep finding their way to us,” Drury said. Edmondson will be the subject of an exhibition at Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, which opens August 12.
Twenty lots in the sale traced their provenance back to Charles K. Davis, president of the Remington Arms Company and a major collector of American furniture and decorative arts whose donation line is on works at Winterthur and other museums. The works were consigned from the estate of his son, Charles K. Davis Jr of Nashville. Leading the way among these offerings was a $66,000 result for an American Queen Anne mahogany lowboy with Israel Sack provenance. Drury said much of the Davis collection came with its original sale information scrawled in handwritten books that Davis Sr had kept. The lowboy, dating to Eighteenth Century New England, had its original brasses, the lower center drawer with a carved fan and a shaped skirt with triple arch and acorn turned finial drops. Also with Sack provenance was a Pennsylvania comb-back Windsor armchair of possible Philadelphia origin that sold for $5,280. An early Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania William and Mary walnut gate-leg table folded up for $8,960.
Two works attributed to Tennessee portrait artist William Shaver (1816-1876) were offered out of a Rogersville, Tenn., estate. Selling for $31,200 was a portrait of Judge John McKinney, which was illustrated in the Tennessee Portrait Project and referenced in Portraits in Tennessee Before 1866. McKinney was a famous Tennessean who, after emigrating to the United States from Ireland in 1880, took up roles as lawyer and landowner. In 1824-25, he built the McKinney Tavern House, which would later rename to Hale Springs Inn, still in business as the oldest continuously run inn in the state. McKinney was appointed US District Attorney by John Quincy Adams and was chosen to represent his county in the State Constitutional Convention in 1834. We knew less about Winifred Berry Benson, the sitter in the other Shaver portrait that brought $5,040. Records indicate she married Captain James Richards of Culpeper County, Virginia, circa 1799 and had seven children with him.
From the Lawrenceville, Ga., collection of Dr Robert and Diana Marsh came 28 lots of southern furniture and decorative arts.
“We were blessed to have a live audience for this sale and I would say we had about 100 in-person bidders over the two days,” Drury said. “The southern furniture is what our local crowd eats up.”
Selling for $16,800 was a Georgia Hepplewhite painted pine huntboard with a gallery back, two drawers, tapered legs and an old dark swirled paint. The firm attributed it to Clark County, Georgia. “It’s really a powerful piece, the swirl decoration really made it come alive,” Drury said.
From the same collection was a walnut brandy table or board from coastal Carolina or Georgia. One of the two large and deep dovetailed drawers featured a fitted interior for bottles. It sold for $8,400.
Southern coin silver made up 61 lots in the sale and saw continued interest. Drury said some rare towns were presented in the mix, including Glasgow and Russellville, Ky., from the collection of Cora Jane Spiller. Notable here were two julep cups: one stamped for John, James or Joseph Eubank of Glasgow, Ky., circa 1808-50, which went out at $7,800. Another by James McClure and Philip Valenti, who formed a partnership in Spiller’s hometown of Bowling Green, Ky., sold for $5,520. A rare pair of Kentucky coin silver eyeglasses marked R. Frazier, attributed to Robert Frazier Sr of Paris, Ky., sold for $2,944.
From another collection came a Gorham coin silver water pitcher and two goblets that descended in the family of Confederate General, Governor of Mississippi and United States Senator James Lusk Alcorn. With the “Alcorn” monogram, the group went out at $3,120.
A southern collector of Grueby offered up eight examples from the Boston company that found good response. Selling for $17,920 was a vase designed by George Prentiss Kendrick with a green matte glaze and pinched neck with stylized leaf design. Kendrick was the company’s first director of design. At $10,200 was a vase by Ruth Erickson, who was active with the company between 1889 and 1910. The 14¾-inch vase featured a curdled brown over green glaze.
Perhaps inspired by the solitude of 2020, bidders clamored for 20 volumes of The Writings of Thoreau in manuscript edition, number 133/600 and published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston and New York, in 1906. The volumes sold for $26,400.
Drury said the firm’s next sale will take place on October 23.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For information, www.caseantiques.com or 865-558-3033.
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