© Jonty Wilde, reproduced by permission of The Henry Moore Foundation
The dispute over Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman – or Old Flo as it is known in Tower Hamlets, where the local council faced high-profile criticism last month for suggesting it might sell the sculpture to raise up to £20 million – has taken another twisted after the London Borough of Bromley claimed ownership of the work.New research has found that although Tower Hamlets Council owned the Stifford housing estate land it was built on in 1960, the sculpture was never listed in any of the various transfer Orders issued by London County Council and its successor, the Greater London Council.
That means the statue is likely to have ultimately become the property of the authority of Bromley, which inherited the assets of later owners the London Residuary Body when it was wound up in 1996.
Happily for campaigners, officials in Bromley are pledging to put Moore’s symbol of post-war hope on public display.
“The monies raised would not protect frontline services for very long and would stop future generations appreciating this national treasure,” said Stephen Carr, the Leader of Bromley Council.
“The idea that selling this internationally recognised sculpture will somehow tackle the financial situation facing Tower Hamlets is flawed.
“Local authorities need to face financial reality and look at the longer term challenges.
“This sculpture must remain in public ownership which is line with the original principles of Henry Moore himself.”
Carr has written a letter to Tower Hamlets Council asserting official ownership of Flo. Stephen Deuchar, the Director of the Art Fund, said the revelations “can only be good news”.
“This new evidence that ownership of the sculpture rests with the London Borough of Bromley should bring to an end Tower Hamlets’ cavalier plans to sell it,” he added.
“We look forward to discussing next steps in the near future with Bromley so that Old Flo can stay where she belongs – in public ownership and on public display.”
Lutfur Rahman, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, had promised the possible auction of the sculpture in February 2013 would “benefit the borough as a whole.”
“If returning the sculpture to this borough is not a realistic value for money option, we need to give serious consideration to selling the artwork,” he said, noting the potentially prohibitive costs involved in returning the work from its current home at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
“The money raised will be ring-fenced to benefit the borough as a whole. This additional resource will have a positive impact across the cross section of ages, needs and interests within the borough."
A debate on the value of public art has ensued, including a Parliamentary debate on the proposals this week.
The Fund has implored the public to email Rahman with their concerns and print off posters http://www.artfund.org/news/2012/11/11/help-save-henry-moores-old-flo, and an online petition calling on the Mayor to “think again and honour Moore's idealistic vision” has won almost 3,000 signatures.
Follow the campaign on Twitter @SaveOldFlo.