NC mu­seum ac­quires 1865 statue, glit­ter

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY MARTHA WAGGONER As­so­ci­ated Press

An im­pres­sive mar­ble sculp­ture of the first king of Is­rael, which dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view for 150 years, has been ac­quired by a North Carolina art mu­seum from a board­ing school in Eng­land.

But be­fore the sculp­ture ti­tled “Saul Un­der the In­flu­ence of Evil” is in­stalled in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the North Carolina Mu­seum of Art, con­ser­va­tors must re­move the glit­ter stuck in the crevices of the statue’s cloth­ing and rem­nants of what might be black fin­ger­nail pol­ish.

It seems the stu­dents of Rend­comb Col­lege, a pri­vate board­ing school, liked to dress up Saul as var­i­ous char­ac­ters dur­ing the hol­i­days, in­clud­ing Gan­dalf from “Lord of the Rings” and Santa Claus, said John Cof­fey, the mu­seum’s cu­ra­tor of Amer­i­can and modern art.

“It be­came a mas­cot for the school,” Cof­fey said. “Gen­er­a­tions of stu­dents had fond mem­o­ries of it.”

The pub­lic can watch the con­ser­va­tors as they clean the statue in the mu­seum’s East Build­ing. Con­ser­va­tors will be work­ing on “Saul” most week­day morn­ings through the spring of 2019.

Amer­i­can sculp­tor Wil­liam Wet­more Story carved “Saul” in 1865 in Rome, and it was shown that same year in Dublin af­ter Pope Pius IX paid for it to be ex­hib­ited there, Cof­fey said. When art his­to­ri­ans be­gan re­view­ing Story’s ca­reer some 100 years later, they couldn’t find “Saul,” he said.

Turns out, Sir Fran­cis Goldsmid — the first Jew to be­come an English bar­ris­ter — had bought the statue and taken it to his coun­try house in Glouces­ter­shire. The house later be­came Rend­comb Col­lege.

Since he be­came a cu­ra­tor at the art mu­seum 30 years ago, Cof­fey had searched for a ma­jor mon­u­ment mar­ble to fill in a gap in the mu­seum’s Amer­i­can col­lec­tion.

He didn’t want the stat­ues of at­trac­tive women that were typ­i­cally avail­able so when a New York dealer con­tacted him seven years ago about “Saul,” he was im­me­di­ately in­trigued.

But that deal fell through when the school backed out, Cof­fey said. He then heard back in 2017 from the dealer, who said the school was again in­ter­ested sell­ing the statue. The school sold the statue to the mu­seum ear­lier this year for an undis­closed amount.

“Some­thing like this may never come up on the mar­ket again,” Cof­fey said. “I never thought I’d have a sec­ond chance at it.”

He de­scribes “Saul” as “one of the most mem­o­rable sculp­tures made by an Amer­i­can in the 19th cen­tury.” The Bi­ble tells the story that Saul dis­obeyed God and was then af­flicted with an evil spirit. Only David could soothe Saul, with his singing and harp­play­ing. Story said his sculp­ture de­picted the king at the mo­ment when the evil spirit en­ters him with one hand clutch­ing his beard and his other hand reach­ing for his dag­ger.

“You’re put in the po­si­tion of be­ing David when you con­front this statue,” Cof­fey said. “He’s just glow­er­ing at you from this pedestal.”

Anne Fair­cloth, daugh­ter of the late U.S. Sen. Lauch Fair­cloth and a mem­ber of the mu­seum’s board of trustees, and her hus­band, Frederick Beau­jeu-Du­for, bought the statue in honor of Cof­fey.

KAREN MALINOFSKI North Carolina Mu­seum of Art via AP

Mar­i­anne Sch­meisser, left, and Corey Ri­ley clean last week the statue ti­tled “Saul Un­der the In­flu­ence of Evil.”

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