NC Museum of Art gives 1865 sculpture new life, new home
An impressive marble sculpture of the first king of Israel, which disappeared from public view for 150 years, has been acquired by the North Carolina Museum of Art from a boarding school in England.
But before the sculpture titled “Saul Under the Influence of Evil” is installed in the museum’s permanent collection, 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.
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, Coffey said.
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.
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 in selling.
“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.”
Conservators clean “Saul under the Influence of the Evil Spirit” at the North Carolina Museum of Art.