A group of works from the collection of the life model June Furlong proved a sell-out at Hansons (25% buyer’s premium) at the end of last year.
All 59 lots in the consignment got away, raising a total of £42,000. While the provenance and attractive estimates ensured decent interest throughout, one lot in particular commanded hefty bidding and provided over half the total raised.
Furlong, who was from Liverpool, began as an artist’s model aged 17 after the painter Don McKinlay suggested that she pose for students at Liverpool College of Art (now part of Liverpool John Moores University).
As her obituary in The Times noted: “For close to 50 years she took her clothes off for almost every artist who passed through Liverpool.” They included a young John Lennon who studied at the college in the late 1950s.
Furlong also spent a five-year spell in London, modelling at the Slade and the Royal College of Art. Among the aspiring artists who painted her there were Lucian Freud, who described her as “an exotic creature with a deep penetrating mind”, and Frank Auerbach.
She kept modelling until she was 65 and remained active on the Liverpool art scene throughout her life, organising exhibitions and publishing an autobiography titled June – a Life Study in 2000. She died in November last year aged 90.
The consignment came about after a contact of Hansons’ head of fine art Adrian Rathbone was assigned to oversee the estate. The turn-around was relatively quick and the lots were offered in the firm’s December 10-11 auction at Bishton Hall in Staffordshire.
Among the Furlong lots was a group of five monochrome prints depicting female nudes by Frank Auerbach (b.1931). Offered together but lightly catalogued and estimated at £800-1200, a number of parties recognised that were in fact part of a set of six works that represent the artist’s earliest recorded works as a printmaker.
The 6 x 6in (15 x 15cm) etchings were all based on life drawings that he had made at the Royal College of Art or at the Borough Polytechnic in the 1950s. Auerbach chose six out of the several hundred drawings he had done (the majority of which were later destroyed) and reproduced them on small square alloy plates using a nail set into a pen holder.
All of the prints, for which he had used the back of a spoon to rub down the dampened wove paper, were effectively proofs as there was no published edition.
Around 12 sets of the six prints were produced in all and most ended up with Auerbach’s friends and fellow artists. While it is not known how Furlong acquired her set of five, it is believed that she was the model for one of the etchings. The one missing from her set was that in which she was thought to be the sitter.
In any case though, the appearance of any of these prints on the market is a rare event. The lot generated considerable pre-sale interest and an intense bidding battle emerged as a number of trade and private bidders from both the UK and Europe took part on the phone and online. The lot was eventually knocked down to a private UK collector at £26,000.
The price compares to the £35,000 for a full set of the six prints sold from the collection of artist RB Kitaj at Christie’s in February 2008. Of the handful of occasions when single copies from the set have emerged at auction in the last decade, the highest price was for an impression sold at Bonhams for £13,000 in June 2015. Further examples made £12,000 and £11,000 in the same sale.
ATG understands that the buyer at Hansons is keen to locate an example of the missing sixth print.
While the etchings proved the undoubted stars, the artist most represented among the Furlong lots was George Jardine (1920-2003).
He was another painter who trained at the Royal College of Art, although he was there earlier between 1939-43, and met Furlong later in his native Liverpool when she began modelling for him. After her retirement from modelling, Jardine was one of the artists for whom Furlong helped organised a show at Liverpool Academy of Arts in 2012.
The Hansons consignment featured 26 works by the artist which included four portraits of Furlong. While a pen drawing depicting her in 1976 took £90 (est: £50-100), uppermost among them was a painting of her in profile, probably from around the same date. The 10½ x 13½in (27 x 34cm) signed oil on board was pitched at £200-300 and was knocked down at £380.
The top price for Jardine overall in the collection came for The Palace of the Mermaids, a larger work that was more representative of his Surrealist output. While his earlier paintings were influenced by the landscape of the north-west and by arists such as Paul Nash and Edward Bawden, an exhibition of Surrealist art at Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery in 1936 also had a dramatic effect.
This 23½in (60cm) square oil and mixed media on board was a colourful exposition of that fact and had some trademark features – including fantastical female figures.
Estimated at £2000-3000, it sold at £2100 to a London-based private buyer who bought a number of works by Jardine at the sale. Although the competition did not extend too far into the estimate, the price was the second highest for the artist at auction, only behind a larger Surrealist landscape that fetched £2300 at Bonhams in December 2018 (source: Artprice by Artmarket).
Derbyshire local hero
Outside of the Furlong lots, four works by George Turner of Derby (1843-1910) were offered from a deceased estate for which Rathbone had done a probate report a few years ago. All sold for a combined £10,600 with a Derbyshire private collector purchasing three of them.
Uppermost among the group was a landscape showing a father and son fishing in a brook near the Derbyshire village of Kirk Ireton. A charming scene set nearby to where Turner moved following his wife Eliza’s death in 1900, the 15¾ x 23½in (40 x 60cm) signed oil on canvas tipped over its £2000-3000 estimate, selling at £3200.
Whether or not Turner truly merits the title of ‘Derbyshire’s Constable’ as mentioned in the pre-sale publicity, his most commercial works are those that best portray the rural idyll and this picture achieved the highest price for the artist at auction in the last two years.
As something of a local favourite, Turner appears regularly at Hansons and, indeed, these lots were followed by another 43 on offer at the firm’s sale in Etwall on December 16. They were led by four works that sold for £3000 apiece – all of them bucolic scenes of either Derbyshire or north Wales.