Wiley studied at the Art Students League in New York under Frank DuMond, and with Robert Reid, Jonas Lie and Martha Walter, before returning to her native Tennessee, where she helped establish formal art education at the University of Tennessee. A mental breakdown in 1926 is believed to have ended her painting career; she remained institutionalized until her death.
The high bidder was the Knoxville Museum of Art, which mounted a fundraising campaign upon learning of the painting’s existence and had to beat out competition from collectors and dealers in Tennessee, New York and Florida to win it.
“This is not just a great painting by a regional female artist—it’s a great American Impressionist painting,” said company president John Case. “This is one instance where an artist is disadvantaged by scarcity. If Catherine Wiley had been more prolific, her name would probably be mentioned today alongside her mentors when people talk about great American Impressionist painters.”
The auction drew unprecedented participation: over 2,000 bidders registered for the sale and approximately 200 of them attended in person.
There were other art records as well. A 19th-century landscape with hunting dogs set what is believed to be an auction record for Wilhelm Eilerts of Kentucky, selling for $9,280, and an oil on canvas of a ship on turbulent seas churned up $6,728, an American auction record for French marine painter Emile Maillard (1846-1926).
There were three works by Joseph Delaney (American, 1904-1991), all of which sold above estimate: an oil on board of New York’s Williamsburg Bridge, $19,720; a reclining female nude, $6,728; and a circus scene, $5,568.
A small early Italian Mannerist school painting on copper depicting the Baptism of Christ, after Tintoretto, brought $3,480 (est. $600-$800), the same price as an unsigned early 20th-century painting of Confederate flags. Bidding hit $3,132 for an early 19th-century miniature portrait by Constantina Coltellini, depicting Richard Bayley Seton, son of the first American born Catholic saint Elizabeth Bayley Seton, and a collector paid $5,104 for a portrait of a man by Randall Vernon Davey (American, 1887-1964).
In the category of Southern regional art, a rare still life of a basket of strawberries by George Dury, a 19th-century Tennessee painter best known for his portraits, made $2,668, while a river scene by Thomas Campbell doubled its high estimate at $1,972 and a Cezanne-inspired still life by Nashvillian Charles Cagle (1907-1968) brought $812. An Alfred Hutty drypoint, Deep South, was a bargain at $2,552, while a 1934 Charleston street scene signed R.B. Rogers brought $1,508 (est. $225-$335). A Smoky Mountain landscape by Louis Jones earned $1,400, while a pair of mountain views by Jacob Anchutin (North Carolina, 1893-1964) brought $1,624 and a pencil drawing of multiple figures by Carroll Cloar (Tennessee, 1913-1994) competed to $1,276 (est. $350-$450). A WPA-period watercolor mural study by Texas artist Horst Schreck sold to a local buyer for $928.
Featured in the 800-lot auction were more than 200 lots from the estate of Salli LaGrone, a well known dealer from Nashville, Tenn., and frequent contributor to Martha Stewart’s broadcasts and publications.
LaGrone’s American silver collection included a Winchester, Va. coin silver beaker by Daniel Hartman and William Phillips (working 1802-1816), with later inscription for Winchester Revolutionary War hero “Daniel Morgan,” which competed to $6,728; a Bailey and Co. coin silver mug with inscription for the Polk family of Tennessee, $1,972; and a coin silver cup by unknown maker, bearing an inscription from the Nashville Female Academy to Mary Polk as a prize for achievement in art, $3,016. A coin silver tray by William Adams of New York with inscription for 19th-century financier Moses Taylor earned $1,742, and LaGrone’s 61-piece set of Tiffany’s Audubon pattern flatware achieved $9,280. A196-piece set of sterling flatware in Gorham’s Versailles pattern, earned $10,672, a set of nine Tiffany sterling strawberry forks in the Olympian pattern brought $1,508 and a single rare sterling mint julep “muddler” spoon brought $319.
A complete 10-volume Octavo edition of John J. Audubon’s Birds and Quadrupeds of North America topped the books and documents category, finishing at $34,800. An 1862 letter from Robert E. Lee to Gov. Pickens of South Carolina rallied to $6,264, and an archive of letters and tape recordings related to James Earl Ray’s legal case in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King sold for $6,728. A late 19th-century folding pocket map of the Battle of Franklin brought $1,856, while an 1802 hand-drawn map of Georgia competed to $1,392.
Pottery, always a staple at Case, included an exceptionally early Middle Tennessee stoneware rundlet inscribed “J. C. Crawley 1851.” It sold to the Tennessee State Museum for $5,220. A diminutive 7-inch redware jug attributed to the Cain Pottery fetched $1972. A Southwest polychrome Zia pottery jar realized $850, while a Zuni jar with deer and geometric designs made $754.
A late Classical Navajo wearing blanket doubled its top estimate, reaching $8,120, while a late 19th-century Northwest Coast carved wooden totem pole with four figures, with original red and black paint, drew $3,364. A Yavapi Apache coiled basket tray brought $812, and a Hopi carved and painted Kochina doll, signed James Kewonwytewa, sold for $928.
Asian material continued to be in demand, with more registered bidders from China participating in the auction than from any other country of origin except United States and Canada. A pair of Famille Rose porcelain Buddha figures competed to $11,136 against a $350-$450 estimate, while a yellow ground bowl with raised floral design exterior and central peach decoration was picked off for $4,872, the same price as a carved hornbill snuff bottle hanging in a wooden stand. A small porcelain cup and saucer in solid robin’s-egg-blue brought $1,512, and a finely carved ivory netsuke in the form of a basket of fish brought $1,276. A white jade snuff bottle with carved basket-weave design earned $1,856 despite lacking a lid, while a pair of celadon jade belt hooks realized $1,508 and a Mughal style jade teapot served up $1,160.
Furniture lots included a heavily refinished Hepplewhite-style Middle Tennessee sugar chest, $3,712, a Sheraton-style cherry sugar chest with turned legs, $2,900, and a miniature (6 1/2 inches tall) sugar chest form box in original surface which brought nearly as much at $2,320. A Tennessee candlestand with tilt top over a birdcage pedestal competed to $3,480, and a North Carolina painted box whose construction from a single piece of wood suggested attribution to the Swisegood School realized $2,320. A pair of round mid-century modern Dunbar nightstands with walnut veneer and brass-tacked, cream vinyl coverings rested at $1,508, while a lot comprised of a Dunbar walnut-veneered chest of drawers and gentleman’s cabinet closed at $1,160.
Jewelry highlights included a lot containing 14-karat gold and turquoise earrings, ring and bracelet with Persian and Egyptian marks, which sold for $1,392, and two mixed sets of Scottish agate jewelry, each containing eight brooches, which sold for $2,346 and $2,320. A Hermes stainless steel Cape Cod ladies watch realized $1,740 (est. $400-$600).
Other notable lots were a Masonic gold medal with 1839 inscription, $3,248, and a relief decorated Masonic watch fob, $1,276; a pair of 19th-century Sevres porcelain lidded urns with heavy gilding, $2,436; and a Baroque wooden knife carved in the form of the Biblical character Delilah from the William Hearst collection, $812. A Western Cartridge Co. Ammunition poster hit its mark at $1,102, and a Buckingham Brothers brass cigar cutter lamp earned $870. A blue glass mineral water bottle from the 19th century Tate Springs Tennessee resort effervesced at $1,102 (est. $100-$200), the same price as an East Tennessee quilt in the Great Divide/Rocky Mountain pattern. A red, white and green tulip and triangle pattern quilt, attributed to Pennsylvania, realized $928. Several lots of Tennessee-made baskets met with strong demand. The category’s top lot was a set of graduated miniature buttocks baskets attributed to Mary Prater (Cannon County, born circa 1920). Ranging in size from just 1 1/2 inches to 5 inches tall, they fetched nearly twice their estimate at $870.
Case Antiques is accepting quality art and antique consignments for its June 2 auction. For more information, call the gallery in Knoxville at (865) 558-3033 or the Nashville office at (615) 812-6096.
ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE