KNOXVILLE, Tenn.–“Don’t forget to invest in art,” quipped auctioneer Wendell Hanson at one point, as one after another painting blew past its pre-sale estimate at the Winter Case Antiques Auction. The socially distanced live audience chuckled behind their masks, but hardly needed reminding.
In fact, the January 30-31 sale set new world auction records for nearly a dozen listed artists. Case also set a new company record for the number of bidders: although the floor crowd was limited to 50, there were 8,000 other registered online, phone and absentee bidders participating from more than 60 countries. The diverse auction featured 1,184 lots of art, jewelry and antiques dating from the 16th through 21st centuries, and eager buyers pushed the overall dollar value of the sale to its high total estimate by the middle of the first day.
The top-selling lot took the room by surprise: a romantic William Oliver (France/UK, 1823-1901) oil on canvas (very top left) of a man with cigarette in hand, gazing at a fan-clutching beauty on a park bench. Estimated at $1,800-2,200, it skyrocketed to $40,960, beating the $27,000 auction record set for Oliver by Sotheby’s back in 1997. Oliver’s oils hadn’t brought more than $10,000 at auction since 2011, making the sudden battle between mostly floor and phone bidders all the more remarkable. Both the buyer and underbidder were private collectors. (Note: all prices in this report include the buyer’s premium).
“Clearly a lot of people are staying close to home these days, and finding joy in collecting or furnishing their homes in a way we haven’t seen for a long time,” said company president John Case. “We’ve attracted a lot of new buyers, and some of our longtime buyers are getting better at navigating online bidding. The result is a strong market, for which we’re very thankful.”
A small, mid-19th century watercolor Caribbean landscape (very top right) by important Trinidad artist Michel Cazabon (1813-1888) doubled its $10,000-14,000 estimate to hit $33,280, while an oil landscape (top left above) by Angel Botello (Puerto Rico, 1913-1986) brought $12,800. A vivid abstract sunburst on canvas (bottom left above) set a new record for Tennessee/Indiana expressionist painter Burton Callicott (1907-2003) at $28,800, and the previous record for Missouri artist Joseph Vorst fell when his oil study for a WPA-era mural (top right above), depicting wheat farmers, raked in $26,400. The Vorst painting was from the estate of businessman Carl Klein of Brentwood, Tennessee, a collector who focused his energies on mostly American regional art of the 20th century. The majority of paintings from Klein’s estate outperformed their estimates, including a New York harbor scene by Joseph Cain (bottom right above), $10,880; a landscape by George Matthew Bruestle, $5,280; an Ogunquit, Maine coastal landscape by Nellie Knopf, $4,800; a scene of fishermen launching a boat titled “Monhegan, Maine,” by Jay Connaway, $4,096; and a landscape depicting a shack which set a new record for Morley Hicks at $2,944).
Bidders snapped up the strong supply of regional art from other consignors, as well. An illegibly signed Hudson River School autumn landscape painting (above top left) quadrupled its estimate at $14,400, while an Emile Gruppe Gloucester harbor scene (above top right) docked at $10,880. A panoramic realist landscape of Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains by John Wesley Chumley (bottom right above) (Virginia/Tennessee, 1928-1984) peaked at $13,200 and a luminist landscape by Kentucky artist Carl Christian Brenner (bottom left above) glowed at $8,400. A watercolor of a reclining nude woman by Joseph Delaney found a new home for $4,608. A private collector in the room paid a record-setting $10,800 for a circa 1900 Southern landscape featuring a young African-American man with hoe in hand, by Tennessee artist Edwin Gardner (1845-1935). Gardner honed his talent at the Royal Academy in Brussels and the National Academy of Design before returning to Mississippi and Tennessee, but his work rarely appears on the market. This painting was included in the Tennessee State Museum’s landmark 1985 exhibit,“Landscape and Genre Painting in Tennessee,” and was one of several works being auctioned from the collection of the recently-sold Watkins College of Art and Design in Nashville. Another highlight from the Watkins collection, a large Expressionist landscape depicting Cades Cove, set a secondary market record for Joanna Higgs Ross (Tennessee, b. 1934), hammering for $4,800. A tiny 6 by 9-inch Appalachian landscape by Charles Krutch (Tennessee, 1849-1934), packed a big punch at $4,080 – the same price paid for mid-sized landscapes by Tennessee artists Cornelius Hankins and Washington Girard, working about the same period..
Case broke its own auction record -twice on the same day- for work by Helen LaFrance. The self-taught Kentucky artist, who passed away in late 2020 at the age of 101, was known for her “memory” paintings, which had previously hammered for up to $6,240. Bidders chased her large oil on panel of a church picnic (above left) to $9,600, while a small Fourth of July Patriotic scene set off fireworks at $8,400. Other 20th century outsider art excelled too: a large painting (above right) of a Native American by Jimmy Lee Sudduth brought $4,608 (est. $500-700) and a Sudduth painting of a woman walking a dog called “Toto” – a fixture in many of his works – hit $1,792. A Purvis Young “assemblage” featuring images of trucks barreled to $1,920, the same price as two wood cutout figures of a Giraffe and a Camel by Howard Finster. A Raymond Coins carved stone stele depicting Adam, Eve and the Tree of Life reached $1,664, and a tropical themed still life oil by Paul Lancaster thrived at $1,920. A quirky oil on canvas rendition of George Washington on horseback by Nashville artist Lillian Webb galloped to $1,920 against a $300-350 estimate.
There were several strong results for works on paper and sculpture. A signed expressionist screenprint by William Scott (1913-1989), “Bottle & Bowl, Blues on Green,” (above left) tallied a strong $14,080 – a world record auction price for that image. A Romare Bearden 1977 color screenprint and photo-lithograph, “Mother and Child,” (above right) realized $5,888 and a George Rodrigue “Blue Dog” limited edition estate lithograph titled “Take Me Back to Texas” hit $3,456. A David Lloyd Blackwood signed etching and aquatint, “The Messenger,” sold for $1,920. An abstract wooden sculpture by Robert Longhurst set a new auction record at $10,880, while an 1852 bronze bust of Kentucky senator Henry Clay by Henry Kirke Brown sold for $13,200 and “The Star,” a bronze nude female sculpture by Harriet Frishmuth, ascended to $7,200. A bronze of dancing man titled “Song of Zorba” by sculptor (and actor) Anthony Quinn, from the edition of 99, tapped $3,328, and a carved stone Mother and Child by Berta Margoulies finished at $2,520. Early works on paper also found willing buyers: an illuminated manuscript on vellum depicting a burial service, from a circa 1465 Book of Hours, sold for $3,240 while another, depicting The Nativity, circa 1512, delivered $2,048. An Albrecht Durer woodcut, “Christ Before Herod,” circa 1511 (Bartsch #31), trimmed to image, achieved $2,816.
Mid-century modern pieces dominated the furniture category. The day’s top furniture lot was a George Nakashima hanging wall cabinet (top left above) at $14,080, with a set of 4 Warren Platner for Knoll wire chairs (top right above) close behind, selling to a Paris collector for $12,800. The Platner chairs hailed from a collection of mid-century furniture and art from the Memphis headquarters of Guardsmark, an international security firm founded by the late Ira Lipman in 1963. Lipman’s collection of Knoll furniture, used in his executive offices, also included 3 Knoll credenzas designed by Florence Knoll Basset, ranging from $5,520-6,400. A Knoll Kyoto etagere designed by Gianfranco Frattini hit $5,520, while a Barcelona couch/daybed designed by Mies van der Rohe rested at $5,632 and an oval table desk with highly figured wood top tallied $4,096. From other consignors, a Philip and Kelvin Laverne “Chan” coffee table sold for $8,960 and a pair of Knoll Barcelona chairs with caramel colored original leather brought $5,888. There were highlights for more traditional pieces as well. A Mid-Atlantic Federal mahogany sideboard desk with square tapered legs and tambour top gallery set off a spirited phone bidder battle that ended at $10,880, and a Southern figured maple and pine huntboard (bottom left above) with exuberantly carved skirt served up $7,680. A folk art “plantation desk” with distinctive trefoil carved cornice quadrupled its estimate at $6,000. A Tennessee cherry sugar chest sweetened the sale at $5,760, while a rare (possibly unique) Tennessee cherry huntboard with pull-out butler’s desk, dubbed a “slab desk,” competed to $3,840. Pieces from a collection of Art Nouveau period furniture oversold their estimates, including a Louis Majorelle walnut bed, $6,000; a Majorelle signed “Aubepine” carved table, 30” diameter, $5,520; and a Majorelle signed end table with undertier, $4,320.
In the Jewelry and objets de vertu category, a 2.93 ct. round brilliant cut solitaire ring (above left), VS2 clarity and J color, doubled its estimate to achieve $21,600, and a 3.19 ct. t.w. ring with emerald cut center stone (above right) (clarity SI1, color L), flanked by two half-moon cut diamonds, sparkled at $15,360 (est. $5800-6200). An antique French Empire bas relief miniature chalcedony plaque depicting a classical procession, in 18k gold mounting, vaulted to $12,160, and an Andre Harvey and Donald Pywell-designed 18k yellow gold and tourmaline “turtle” necklace and earrings set realized $10,240. A vintage Rolex 18k Date model wristwatch ticked to $8320 and an 18k Patek Philippe men’s watch with mesh bracelet made $6,400. A Victorian 18k gold, enamel and diamond cross pendant finished at $2,688.
A 6-piece Francis I sterling tea set with sterling tray (no kettle) (above left) brought a strong $16,800, with a set of six Francis I sterling service plates reaching $3,840 and twelve Francis I bread plates (above right), $2,880. An early 20th century seven-piece Mount Vernon sterling tea set with kettle and sterling tray in the neoclassical-style Pompeiian pattern earned $9,000. The top selling sterling flatware service was a 157-piece set of S. Kirk & Son Repousse pattern flatware at $5,520, followed by a 132-piece set in International’s Joan of Arc pattern at $4,096 and 156 pieces in Reed and Barton’s Modernist pattern “Dimension,” $4,080. Silverplate did surprisingly well. A set of 24 English silverplated chargers by Henry Wilkinson in the manner of Paul de Lamerie competed to $3,328 (est. $600-800) and a silverplated waiter tray with faux tortoiseshell center brought $1,664. An English sterling oval platter by Walter and John Barnard finished at $2,400 and a coin silver julep cup marked for E. Kinsey of Cincinnati, with inscription for the prominent Adair family of Kentucky, sold for $1,200.
The Book, Document and Historical category continues to be one of the biggest draws at Case. An Ayn Rand signed 1943 true first edition of her first major literary success, The Fountainhead, (with dust jacket) (above left) rocketed to $23,040. An Andrew Jackson autograph letter, signed, detailing the President’s intervention at West Point on behalf of his late aide’s orphaned son (above right), elicited $9,000, and a poignant 1859 letter written by an educated Virginia house slave named Mariah to her daughter brought $3,328. A 1778 engraved view of Philadelphia published by Carington Bowles, with multiple tears, sold for $8,320, while a 1783 edition of the book Letters from An American Farmer, containing fold out maps of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, tripled its estimate at $3,072. A John F. Kennedy TLS to Maryland senator John Marshall Butler sold for $2,280, and a signed Samuel Morse albumen photograph of his home, Locust Grove, competed to $2,160 (est. $600-800). A late 19th century map of Memphis showing the sewer lines that helped end that city’s yellow fever epidemic and set new standards for public sanitation, cleaned up at $1,664, and an 1881 Rand McNally & Co. world atlas brought $1,792.
A pair of ambrotypes including a CSA soldier and a man holding a gun (above left) shot to $4,864, and a Civil War era medical kit belonging to Tennessee doctor William Steptoe Reid earned $3,072 (est. $400-600). Other Civil War related items included a Confederate Gardner pattern canteen which tripled its estimate at $3,328, a CSA “Spun Hooks” waist belt buckle, $2,760; a Union Cincinnati Arsenal Cavalry jacket in good condition with Ohio history, $2,560; and a Confederate, possibly Georgia, D-guard bowie knife with scabbard, $2,432. 3 Civil War carbines (two Mass. Arms Co. 2nd model, .50 cal and a Poultney & Trimble Smith’s Patent, .50 cal) each brought $1,800, and a U.S. Springfield Artillery Model 1832 short sword and scabbard tripled its estimate at $1,664. Two East TN battlefield pickup swords sold as a single lot for $1,800. A World War I 1917 German Erfurt Luger P08 with holster and clips, all pieces numbered to the gun, realized $2,400, and a 1942 U.S. Navy Morse Mark V diving helmet ascended to $6,000 (est. $3,000-3,400).
Political collectors from across the country converged online and by phone to bid on a single-owner estate collection of campaign buttons that tallied more than $55,000 in aggregate. The highlight was a George Washington inaugural “Linked States” brass button with engraved letters emblematic of the original thirteen colonies, which competed to $3,600 (est. $1,800-2,200). An Abraham Lincoln mourning ribbon badge with jugate portrait busts of Lincoln and Washington brought $2,176, several times its estimate, and a rare “Theodore Roosevelt For Vice President” pinback button rallied to $1664. A William McKinley “Do You Smoke?” pinback button was a hot seller at $900.
Southern decorative arts continued their strong streak, in a variety of mediums. A rectangular Cherokee rivercane lidded storage basket made by Eva Wolfe (1922-2004) in pristine condition (above left), tripled its estimate at $10,200. A North Carolina 5-gallon stoneware jug with initials for Daniel Seagle (1805-1867), formerly from the Daisy Wade Bridges collection (above right), hit $4,800 (est. $1,400-1,800) and a pair of Greene County, TN stoneware jars signed by potters John Benjamin Harrison and George MacFarland earned $2,432 (est. $500-550). Both jars in the lot had been featured in “Tennessee Turned: Earthenware and Stoneware Made in East Tennessee 1800-1900” at the Museum of East Tennessee History in 2011. Tennessee Samplers are a rare commodity, and ones with city names are even harder to find, which helps explain the excitement over an alphabet and basket of flowers sampler signed “Eliza A. Folwell, Nashville, 1836.” Collectors pursued it to a strong $7,200 (est. $4,800-5,200).
There was healthy demand for decorative items – even dinnerware. A set of 24 Herend Rothschild Bird pattern chargers and soup plates with desirable blue borders (above left) served up $5,760, while a 38 piece set of Royal Crown Derby dinnerware in the Kings pattern (above right) ruled at $3,840 and a Mottahedeh Blue Canton dinner service for twelve brought $2,400. A Continental silvered bronze centerpiece with figural game animal base and crystal bowl brought $3,456. A cold painted bronze figure of a rabbit in a basket made $3,200, and a massive 19th century bronze and crystal chandelier from a historic Middle Tennessee mansion lit up at $2,944.
Asian highlights included a miniature portrait by 19th century Hong Kong painter Yeu-Qua of future painter Kate Freeman Clark as a child, $4,800 (est. $800-1,200); a bronze figure of the Taoist deity of literature, Wen Chang, $5,120; and a group of Chinese ceremonial temple scroll paintings, which totaled $7,200. A Southeast Asian bronze buddha, listed as late 19th century or earlier, attracted a following at $2,400, and a Chinese export silver cocktail shaker with dragon decoration produced $2,048.
Other items of note included a large cast iron greyhound attributed to the J.W. Fiske foundry, $4,800; a framed marble plaque depicting a stonecutter (possibly a Maryland trade sign), $3,072; an American carved and giltwood eagle, $2,432, and a chess set by Richard L. Synek (American, d. 2014) originally designed by and dedicated to Charles Martel (c. 688-741), the Prince of Franks who won the Battle of Tours in 732 AD, $2,432 (est. $400-500).
Case is currently accepting consignments for its July 10-11, 2021 auction, which will feature more American 20th century regional paintings from the Klein estate and mid-century furniture from the Lipman collection. Case has consignment offices in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Kingsport, Tennessee. For more information, call the Knoxville headquarters at (865) 558-3033 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.