Published: January 28, 2020
KNOXVILLE, TENN. — An iconic William Edmondson limestone sculpture and an array of diamond jewelry from multiple estates led the winter Case antiques auction on January 25-26. It was the first two-day sale format in the 13-year-old company’s history and reflected a growing number of consignments from across the Southeast.
Nashville native William Edmondson, the son of freed slaves, made history when he became the first African American artist to have a solo exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1937. He has been hailed as one of the most important Outsider artists of the Twentieth Century. His carved limestone depiction of a bible-waving pastor in this auction was the sale’s top lot, chased by eight or nine phone bidders and finishing at $540,000, including the buyer’s premium, well above its $70/75,000 estimate. The sculpture is well documented, having been photographed in Edmondson’s Nashville yard in 1941 by Edward Weston and exhibited at the Tennessee State Museum (1981) and the Frist Art Museum (2006) in Nashville.
“The Preacher” depicts a minister with his left arm raised with a bible in hand, open eyes and mouth and attired in a long-tailed coat and bow tie, standing on a pedestal. The sculpture is 23½ inches high.
“It was a pleasant surprise,” said the firm’s president, John Case, acknowledging that the price places “Preacher” in what is believed to be the second highest among Edmonson’s figures sold at auction to date. “It’s an iconic work, illustrating the importance of the preacher in the artist’s spiritual backstory.” Case said there was strong interest from the South, the Midwest, the Northeast, even by overseas bidders, three to four weeks prior to the sale. “I can tell you that it’s staying in the United States, having gone to a buyer in the Northeast,” said Case.
In January 2019, Case sold Edmonson’s limestone statue of a woman carrying her bible and purse, a 15½-inch “Miss Lucy: An Uplifted Lady,” for $324,000 to a private collector.
The top jewelry lot among multiple large GIA-certified diamonds in the sale was a 4.18-carat round brilliant diamond in 18K white gold pendant setting that brought $78,000.
Watch for a full review of the sale in a future edition.
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