Published: July 18, 2023
Review By Madelia Hickman Ring; Photos Courtesy Case Antiques
KNOXVILLE, TENN. — “We had a couple of real surprises. It was a very good day,” reported Case Antiques’ vice president of fine and decorative arts, Sarah Campbell Drury. She confirmed that the firm’s two-day Summer Fine Art & Antiques Auction July 8-9 featured 1,260 lots and exceeded their high expectations, with 98 percent sold by lot and more than 7,000 registered bidders from at least 60 countries. Another noteworthy aspect of the sale was the launch of the firm’s dedicated online platform, which she was pleased to say saw considerable traffic, including “many people who wouldn’t have done it prior to the pandemic. Our buyers are getting more comfortable with technology, even the older ones.”
The event’s top lot spoke to the season. “Couples at the Beach,” an oil on board composition by George E. Hughes (American, 1907-1990) that was the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on August 2, 1952, sold to a phone bidder for $103,700, underbid by competition both in the room and online. “That was one of the biggest surprises. We knew it would do better than our estimate [$18/22,000], but we didn’t expect it to go that high. It’s a really fun summery image and worth every penny,” Drury said.
Another bright painting that may not have been quite so seasonally specific pulled in $97,600 and sold to an international buyer, also bidding on the phone. Le Pho’s (Vietnamese/French, 1907-2001) circa 1950s “Jeunes Filles aux Bouquets” also came from an Eastern Tennessee collection and had provenance to both Arthur Lenars & Cie, Paris, and the Wally Findlay Galleries, Chicago. Interestingly, the painting had been featured on the Antiques Roadshow in 2014, when it had been appraised at $20/30,000. Case thought it might do better and presented it with an estimate of $88/92,000.
A painting titled “Post Office Café” by Tennessee artist Carroll Cloar (1913-1993) will be staying in the South, on a winning bid of $51,200, another sizeable increase over its $14/16,000 estimate. Not only did this painting exhibit Cloar’s flat aesthetic, which Drury described as a “haunting flatness,” but on a board measuring just 16 by 12 inches, it was one of his smaller sizes, so the result was particularly noteworthy. Inclusion in Carroll Cloar’s catalogue raisonné Hostile Butterflies: And Other Paintings (MeMphis, 1977) and provenance to a Memphis, Tenn., estate and gallery also helped drive interest in the work.
For surprises, Drury said the biggest one of the auction was the $48,640 result for a circa 1880 signed Aesthetic Movement inlaid rosewood and mahogany easel by Herter Brothers. One of just a few known stamped examples, the 76½-inch-tall easel came to Case from a Tennessee seller who was selling her father’s Indiana estate, from which this hailed. It was the highest result of the weekend for furniture.
Other noteworthy furniture results would be remiss without including $9,600 for a Kentucky Sheraton cherrywood sideboard that is documented with MESDA, a Classical New York three pedestal dining table that had a Charleston history and had been published in an article in the 1996 Chipstone Foundation’s American Furniture journal ($8,960); a Sheraton cherrywood sugar chest with a middle Tennessee inscription ($6,710) a cherrywood sugar chest with Richmond, Ky., history and date of manufacture ($5,612) and an East Tennessee Federal inlaid cherrywood chest of drawers ($5,888).
Case has previously handled sand art bottles by deaf-mute Iowan Andrew Clemens (1857-1894) and kept the estimate conservative on a patriotic example that stood just 5-5/8 inches high and had “slight scattered chipping” to both the stopper edge and bottle rim. Despite these issues, the bottle, which featured a banner reading “Mrs. A. Harris” and a label that read, “Pictured Rock Sand Put Up by A. Clemens Deaf Mute McGregor, Iowa,” went from a $10/14,000 estimate to $36,600.
A strong result of $29,280 was achieved for a 9-inch-tall Southwest Virginia Great Road earthenware pottery jug that was signed “TIM” and attributed to Thomas J. Myers (1807-1863). Described as “scarce,” the catalog pointed out similarities with this jug and a jar included in the 2011 exhibition at the East Tennessee Historical Society titled “Tennessee Turned – Earthenware and Stoneware Made in East Tennessee 1800-1900”; it sold to a phone bidder.
A historically important grouping of lots related to the USS Kearsarge, the Civil War Union sloop of war that defeated the CSS Alabama in 1864, attracted a lot of interest and activity, including by some institutions. While Drury wasn’t able to identify buyers for the 10 lots on offer, several achieved results high enough to put them in the top tier, notably the ship’s logbook during its command under Captain John A. Winslow, which sailed to $19,520. It was followed at $17,080 by a 35-star flag that was asserted to be on board the Kearsarge during its engagement with the Alabama. Another flag, which had just 13 stars, but which was determined to be made in the mid-Nineteenth Century, flew to $7,680. All 10 lots of artifacts from the Kearsarge had descended in the family of Captain Winslow. Other artifacts from the group included a presentation tea service ($6,144), a telescope ($4,636) and an assortment of military uniform embellishments ($1,024).
The auction set new world auction records for a handful of artists, all working regionally in Tennessee or the American South. Among these new records was $14,640 for “Fishing Worms” by Bill Sawyer (Tennessee, 1936-2020), an oil on board composition that Drury confirmed was staying local. The undated picture of a large white house and outbuildings measured 18 by 24 inches and bested the previous world auction record for the artist, which had been set at $11,340 in February 2023.
The auction included a handful of works by Philip Perkins (Tennessee, 1907-1970), all but one of which were from the collection of Nashville architect, Earl S. and Suzanne D. Swensson, who had acquired them from Stanford Fine Art in Nashville. Perkins’ previous auction record had been $4,750 but Case realized $10,240 for his abstract oil on canvas painting titled “Eridanus.” Another abstract, “Through Beyond,” was the top lot in the second day of sales, going out at $5,120.
New world auction records were also set for Ron Williams (Tennessee, 1947-2016) and Arthur Weeks (Alabama, 1930-1988). Earning $7,930 was Williams’ panoramic landscape, probably of the Smoky Mountains, that was cataloged as “very large” and measured 42¾ by 63¼ inches. It unseated the previous auction record of $5,040, also of the Smoky Mountains that Case sold in January 2022. Weeks’ “Summer Seaside, Birds Bay, Greece,” painted in a Fauvist manner in oil on canvas, finished at $6,400, just ahead of the previous record for the artist, which had stood at $5,625 since March 2021.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Case Antiques’ next auction is scheduled for October 7. For information, 865-558-3033, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.caseantiques.com.
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