KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A William Edmondson carved limestone sculpture of a nurse injected excitement into the Jan. 21 Case Antiques Auction, drawing a healthy winning bid of $129,800 and also boosting interest in an institutional collection of outsider art (all prices include the buyer’s premium). Absentee and Internet live bidding was available through LiveAuctioneers.
Other strong categories included 20th 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 (above) 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 (below) 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, a record for the edition.
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
Three Pablo Picasso designed ceramic vessels (below) brought from to $7,080 to $10,148 apiece.
The sale also included a number of pieces of 20th 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, while a vivid oil titled Cherokee Lovebirds by Benjamin F. Perkins soared to $2,772.
Nine phone bidders and several floor and Internet bidders chased a Virginia Federal Pembroke table (below) with unusual “guttae” feet to $27,140 – a record for that particular form. As with many of the top selling furniture pieces in the sale, the table came from the collection of Dr. and Mrs. Caldwell and had been documented by the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts. The Caldwells’ Kentucky Federal sideboard, pictured in a 1971 Magazine Antiques article on the couple’s home, brought $22,420. Their East Tennessee Federal secretary, published in The Art and Mystery of Tennessee Furniture tallied $17,110, the same price as their rare Middle Tennessee Federal cellaret.
Southern pottery and textiles are a staple at Case. A rare Middle Tennessee pottery jar (below) 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, Tennessee 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 (Mississippi, 1916-2000) decorated with nine panels of applied hands smashed its $350-450 estimate to earn $3,186.
Books, maps and documents are a growing category at Case. A Jefferson Davis post-Civil War letter to Nashville educator J.B. Lindsley, discussing his thoughts on the war and referencing a Nashville Confederate hero (Col. Randal McGavock), attracted fierce bidding and ended at $4,284, while a Lindsley archive that included autographed letters from former Confederate Gen. A.P. Stewart brought $2,394. An autographed CDV image of Robert E. Lee rallied to $1,890.
For details contact Case Antiques Auction at 865-558-3033 or the Nashville office at 615-812-6069.