KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A limestone carving titled Miss Amy, an Uplifted Lady by William Edmondson, ascended to $240,000 at the July 13 Case Antiques Auction – just one of many high points in what proved to be a record-setting day for the Tennessee auction house. (All prices in this report include the buyer’s premium). The day’s highlights also included a six-figure diamond ring, European and American paintings, and Southern pottery and decorative arts. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.
Company president John Case said the sale total generated by the 773-lot auction broke all previous sales records, and it felt particularly rewarding that the top lot was by Edmondson (1874-1951), a Tennessee native who, in 1937, became the first African American artist to have a solo show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The winner was an anonymous phone bidder, competing against multiple other suitors on the phone. It was the second highest price ever paid for an Edmondson solo female sculpture (the highest price was $320,000 for Miss Lucy, a slightly taller sculpture from the same estate collection, sold at Case in January 2019). Both sculptures were exhibited at an Edmondson retrospective in 1964 and were described in the catalog as members of the artist’s church who had been “uplifted” to heaven. Miss Amy (above) was also part of a traveling Edmondson exhibit in 2000 that visited the Museum of American Folk Art and the High Museum in Atlanta. Both sculptures were particularly coveted for their dark, unweathered patinas; unlike many other Edmondson figures, they were never subjected to the elements as garden sculptures but had always been indoors, initially serving as doorstops. A William Edmondson carved limestone rabbit from a different consignor leaped to $40,800, selling to a Tennessee collector for well over its $18,000-$22,000 estimate despite a repaired ear and paw.
Other art standouts included a vivid Impressionist harbor scene by Henry Moret (French, 1865-1913), which sailed to $132,000 (est. $68,000-72,000). It was from a Tennessee collection of European paintings that included an oil painting of peasant workers in a hayfield by Leon Lhermitte (French, 1844-1925), which hit paydirt at $38,400, and an oil painting of women and a child on a beach by Francisco Miralles y Galup, $10,240. A surrealist oil by Brazilian artist Hector Julio Bernabo (“Carybe,” 1911-1997) titled the Horseman raced to $15,600. A Pointillist oil depicting a snowstorm in the Alps by Jacques Martin Ferrieres competed to $8,960, and a bronze sculpture of jockeys on horseback by Jean-Leon Gerome finished strong at $6,600.
Demand was robust for American regional art, particularly Southern paintings. An Impressionist scene by Catherine Wiley (American/Tennessee, 1879-1958) depicting three women sitting on a porch, shelling peas, soared to $84,000, selling to a private collector for double its estimate. An acrylic on board of black Angus cattle grazing in a field by Tennessee artist Carroll Cloar (1913-1993) measuring 11inches by 15 inches, smaller than his typical size, hammered at a price normally seen for his larger paintings, $36,000 (est. $12,000-14,000). There was debate whether a circa 1905 oil landscape ambiguously titled The Breezy Uplands by California painter William Wendt (1865-1946) was a California scene or a Cornwall scene; it realized $30,720. A WPA-era farm landscape by Franklin Boggs (American, 1914-2009) hit $9,600. A scarce Audubon Havell print of the American Robin flew to $12,160 despite being glued to its backing and severely toned.
One of the happiest consignors of the day was a Nashville woman who picked up two linocuts by English printmaker Ursula Fookes at an estate sale for $4; despite some condition problems, Case gaveled the pair for $5,888.
Folk and outsider art highlights included a Helen LaFrance painting of an interior scene with sleeping children, $4,608, and a Lonnie Holley sandstone sculpture reminiscent of a totem, which tripled its estimate at $3,840. A Thornton Dial watercolor, Toll Bridge, crossed into sold territory at $4,560, and a Clementine Hunter landscape with figures titled Going to Church showed up at $3,480.
Jewelry from the estate of a Knoxville socialite sparkled throughout the auction. The clear favorite was a ring featuring a 7.32 carat oval diamond flanked by two square one-carat yellow diamonds. GIA graded for a G color and VS-1 clarity on the center stone, it attracted multiple phone and floor bidders and achieved $168,000 (est. $100,000-$120,000). A pair of 8.34 carat t.w. diamond solitaire earrings (I-1 clarity, K color), from the same estate opened over its estimate thanks to online bidders and went all the way to $38,400 (est. $16,000-$19,000). An Art Deco three-stone diamond and sapphire ring competed to $8,400, and a 240 gram 18K gold chain necklace set brought $9,000.
Southern Pottery is a staple at Case, and the July auction proved the market is hotter than ever, especially for rare pieces. A miniature Edgefield face jug measuring just under 5 inches tall delivered a whopping $40,800 (est. $18,000-$22,000). The tiny jug was attributed to an unknown African American maker at the Thomas Davies factory (1861-1864) and had been previously documented by the McKissick Museum; the buyer was a private collector bidding on the phone. An East Tennessee earthenware double handle jar with manganese decoration, one of the largest found to date, and in very good condition, doubled its estimate at $31,200. A collection of Daniel Seagle (Catawba Valley, North Carolina, 1805-1867) pottery was led by a 1-gallon stoneware saddle jug with two flattened sides which rounded up $5,040 (est. $1,000-$1,200); a larger but more traditionally shaped 3-gallon Seagle jug brought $2,880.
Collectors of early Advertising came out in force for two rare Stanocola Standard Oil company enameled “button” signs, driving them to $13,200 and $11,400. Both featured round Stanocola logos and were made by the Balto Enameling Co. The more expensive one had been mounted to a handmade painted wood and metal “Filling Station” sign that measured 98 inches long. A lithographed Winchester Rifle and Ammunition sign depicting four bear hunting dogs by artist Henry Rankin Poore (1859-1940) shot to $10,240.
Strong participation from Asian buyers helped propel a Qing porcelain painted plaque attributed to Yu Huanwen (Chinese, 1852-1892) to $11,500, and a small celadon jade duck, offered with a jade belt hook, to $8,400.
There were more than 75 lots of silver in the auction. High-end flatware services performed well, with a Tiffany Audubon pattern 59-piece set flying to $10,880 – the same price as a 66-piece set of Puiforcat flatware in the Royal pattern, while a 68-piece Buccellati Borgia pattern set brought $7,200. A pair of Edwardian sterling candelabra shined at $4,320.
A scarce Historical Staffordshire Liverpool pitcher with polychrome decoration of the American masted ship, The General Mercer, led the ceramics category at $6,660. Two Hermes Paris porcelain dinnerware sets in the Toucans pattern, each having 40 pieces, flew to $5,120 apiece. A Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica porcelain tureen from the estate of the late Jane Dudley of Nashville, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, dished up $4,608.
Early 20th century decorative arts did well. A Tiffany Studios mock turtleback bronze lamp with lemon leaf shade #470 brought $14,080 despite a replaced cap and some old minor repairs, and a pair of Tiffany Studios bronze and glass “Puddle” candlesticks earned $2,280. An Arts & Crafts hammered copper lamp with mica shade earned $5,376, and a Le Verrier Art Deco bronze figural lamp realized $5,280, the same price as a Roycroft mahogany three-door bookcase.
For more information or to consign objects for a future auction, call the gallery in Knoxville at 865-558-3033 or the company’s Nashville office at 615-812-6096 or email email@example.com.