The 20th Century Design sale on January 28 includes furnishings from both the couple’s London home, a former sculptor’s studio in St John’s Wood, and their West Sussex weekend retreat.
Long and St John Wilson met at Yale and began working together in London in 1965. They worked on the British Library for more than 30 years from 1974.
The collection includes work by two artists that contributed to the largest 20th century public building in Britain: Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005), whose 12ft bronze Newton After Blake sits in the piazza outside the British Library, and RB Kitaj (1932-2007), whose massive tapestry hangs in its entrance hall.
St John Wilson and Paolozzi had been friends since the pair both participated in the seminal This is Tomorrow exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1956. A small 9in (22cm) plaster study for Paolozzi’s bronze of Newton measuring the universe with his dividers, signed and inscribed in pencil Eduardo Paolozzi 1995, carries an estimate of £300-500.
Kitaj was one of the 14 artists for which MJ Long had designed studios, typically accepting paintings and drawings as part payment for her work.
Long later wrote about the projects in a 2009 book Artists’ Studios. When made by the master weavers of the Dovecot Tapestry Studio in 1993, the British Library tapestry based on Kitaj’s painting If Not, Not was the largest in the world at around 23ft (7m) across. A test section woven at the Dovecot in 1992-93, measuring a more manageable 3ft 3in (98cm) square, forms part of the sale pitched at £400-600.
Long’s London home, built c.1926 as a studio for the sculptor Sir William Reid Dick, was adapted by the couple in 1974 into a family home. It was furnished with a broad range of pieces, from traditional antiques and bentwood café furniture to pieces made after designs by architect-designers they admired such as Mies van de Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Corbusier.
Most will be offered at affordable levels with provenances that adds handsomely to their story. For example, a pair of Beehive pendant lamps by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (estimate £400-600) are believed to be those which hung in Colin St John and MJ Long's office while a typical William IV rosewood circular centre table was used by Long and Wilson to entertain their many artist friends (estimate £250-300).