The sale of an art collection belonging to a beloved art school model and muse has sparked a fight over its legal ownership.
June Furlong (3 June 1930 – 20 November 2020) was a long-time life model for the Liverpool School of Art and Design, Slade School of Fine Art and the Royal College of Art. Among the thousands of artists she posed for were Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, and Lucian Freud who lauded her as “an exotic creature with a deep penetrating mind”.
Furlong even captured the attention of a young John Lennon who drew Furlong as part of his Fine Art studies at the then Liverpool College of Art. A stalwart of Liverpool’s art scene, Furlong’s death was met with great sadness among the city’s arts community. Now her memory has been mired in controversy over the recent sale of her private art collection.
Furlong built the collection over several years with works created by her many admirers. According to artist, Charles Thomson, he helped Furlong organise the donation of these pieces to the Williamson Art Gallery & Museum in Birkenhead. When it emerged that these works were instead sold by Hansons Auctioneers in Staffordshire in December 2020, Thomson and Furlong’s many other artist friends were livid.
“It is absolutely outrageous that June Furlong gave her art collection to a museum and now important work has been sold off … The work was [consigned to] auction, even before she had been buried on 8 December”, Thomson told The Guardian. He affirms that Furlong signed both a “gift document”, the original of which is held by the Williamson, and expressed her desire to donate the works to the Museum in a written message.
In spite of the document, the collection of 55 works including five Auerbach female nude prints, was consigned to Hansons for sale. The works are said to have fetched over £42,000 with the Auerbach prints alone commanding £26,000 (hammer price).
Thomson is demanding Wirral Council, funder of the Williamson, take legal action to retrieve the artworks sold by Hansons or donate all sale proceeds to the Museum. “I tried to stop the auction in order to save the work for the Williamson collection, but could not do so. Only Wirral council could have done this and they didn’t”, Thomson submitted.
Curator of the Williamson and principal museums officer for Wirral council, Colin Simpson, told The Guardian that Wirral council and executors are seeking legal advice as to the legal ownership of Furlong’s collection.
Furlong’s cousin and next of kin, Roy Corlett, explained there were no executors at present due to the absence of a will from Furlong. He confirmed he was aware of the transfer of the artworks to Hansons but that whether Furlong signed the “gift document” was to be decided by solicitors. Hansons, which is owned by ‘Bargain Hunt’ and ‘Flog I!’ star, Charles Hanson, has offered no comment.