NC Mu­seum of Art gives 1865 sculp­ture new life, new home

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Arts - BY MARTHA WAGGONER

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.”

North Car­olina Mu­seum of Art

Con­ser­va­tors clean “Saul un­der the In­flu­ence of the Evil Spirit” at the North Car­olina Mu­seum of Art.

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