Published: February 7, 2017
KNOXVILLE, TENN. — A William Edmondson carved limestone sculpture of a nurse injected excitement into the January 21 Case Antiques Auction, drawing a winning bid of $129,800 and also boosting interest in an institutional collection of outsider art. Other strong categories included Twentieth Century abstract art, books and documents, Southern furniture and regional decorative arts and antique firearms. Two prestigious Nashville collections — those of Dr and Mrs Benjamin Caldwell and Charles and Ann Wells — provided several of the auction’s best moments.
The top-selling piece, titled “Nursing Supervisor,” was by William Edmondson (1874–1951), a son of freed slaves and former hospital worker who claimed divine inspiration for his work, and who holds the distinction of being the first African American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art. The 14-inch-high figure came from the Caldwell collection of Southern art and antiques, and was exhibited in the 1990s at the Janet Fleisher Gallery in New York and during the 1980s in the Edmondson retrospective at the Tennessee State Museum. An anonymous phone bidder beat out two other phone bidders, an absentee bidder and two collectors bidding in the room to become the new owner.
Twentieth Century art saw vibrant interest across mediums. Six international phone bidders battled multiple online bidders for an abstract oil titled “Torso” by Irish artist Louis Le Brocquy (1916–2012) from the Wells collection; it more than tripled its estimate at $16,520.
International interest also propelled “Paris 1962 Phenomena,” an abstract acrylic on canvas by Paul Jenkins (American, 1923–2012), to $12,390, while a bronze sculpture of a ballerina, “La Danseuse Nattova” by Serge Yourievitch (Russia France, 1876–1969) danced to $16,520, ($5/7,000), a record for the edition.
A 1964 Marcel Duchamp bronze disc-form sculpture titled “Bouche-Evier (Sink Stopper),” measuring just 2½ inches in diameter, was a big hit at $7,812, and a 1980s acrylic on canvas of three children with a watering can by Tennessee artist Carroll Cloar (1913–1993) sold to a local collector on the phone at $22,420.
A full bank of phone bidders competed for a Salvador Dali lithograph, “Cosmic Rays Resuscitating Soft Watches,” published in 1965 by Sydney Z. Lucas, signed and numbered 34/150, sending it to $12,980.
When it came to more traditional American art, a Gilbert Gaul (1855–1919) oil painting of a Native American campsite by moonlight brought $10,856, and a small moonlit landscape oil by Ralph Albert Blakelock (1847–1919) shone at $9,324.
The sale also included a number of pieces of Twentieth Century Southern folk/outsider art, most of it being sold by the Regional Arts Center of Cannon County, Tenn. A carved limestone “Adam and Eve” sculpture by Tim Lewis of Kentucky brought $4,032.
Signaling a renewed interest in Southern furniture, nine phone bidders and several floor and internet bidders chased a Virginia Federal Pembroke table with unusual “guttae” feet to $27,140, smashing its $2/3,000 estimate and setting a record for this particular form.
As with many of the top selling furniture pieces in the sale, the table came from the collection of the Caldwells and had been documented by the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. The Caldwells’ Kentucky Federal sideboard brought $22,420; their East Tennessee Federal secretary and their rare Middle Tennessee Federal cellaret each realized $17,110.
Southern pottery and textiles are a staple at Case, and a rare Middle Tennessee pottery jar with handles and applied heart, diamond and flower designs, attributed to the Hedgecough Pottery of Middle Tennessee, tripled its estimate at $10,384.
A rare Maury County, Tenn., needlework sampler decorated with human figures and containing a verse sold for $5,192. A signed folk art “Many Hands” quilt by Sarah Mary Taylor (1916–2000) decorated with nine panels of applied hands smashed its $350/450 estimate to earn $3,186.
An Eighteenth Century Virginia notebook recording slave baptisms and the birth of several children, including John Overton, who later rose to prominence in Middle Tennessee, sold for $1,888. It was purchased by Traveller’s Rest Plantation, Overton’s home, which is now a historic house museum in Nashville.
The auction featured a collection of more than 30 Winchester rifles, most of which met or exceeded estimates. Top seller was a Russian model 1895 musket, 7.62 by 54R lever action rifle, which hit $5,040.
More bidders participated in the auction online from China than from any country except the United States. Asian highlights included a circa 1900 Chinese export silver tea set with prunus design and associated coffee pot, all by Wang Hing, $6,048.
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For further information, 865-558-3033, 615-812-6069 or www.caseantiques.com.
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