Tower Hamlets Council has won a protracted legal battle over the ownership of a £17 million Henry Moore sculpture, ‘Draped Seated Women, affectionately known as ‘Old Flo’.
The High Court has ruled that Tower Hamlets is the legal owner, not Bromley Council, who claimed rights to the bronze sculpture in 2013.
Bromley Council contested the ownership in order to delay a decision by the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, to sell the sculpture in order to ease the borough’s financial difficulties.
Rahman was removed from office in April by the Election Commission having been found guilty of corrupt and illegal practices. The newly elected mayor John Biggs has reversed the decision of his disgraced predecessor, saying: “I believe that it belongs to the people of east London and should be available locally for public enjoyment.”
The sculpture was acquired for £6,000 in 1962 by London County Council as a gift to the east end and to the Stifford Estate in Stepney Green. When the estate was demolished in 1997, the sculpture was loaned to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where it is today.
Rahman consigned the sculpture to Christie’s auction house at the end of 2012 in order to help redress the borough’s financial difficulties. His decision was criticised by many senior figures in the art world, including Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota and the artist’s daughter Mary Moore. In an open letter to The Observer at the time, The Henry Moore Foundation expressed their concern:
“While we understand the financial pressures that Tower Hamlets faces, we feel that the mayor’s proposal goes against the spirit of Henry Moore’s original sale to London County Council at a favourable price on the understanding that it would be placed in East London.”
Happily for Yorkshire Sculpture Park, especially because they are currently hosting a major exhibition of Moore’s sculptures, it seems that Old Flo will continue her holiday up north for a little while longer. Following the court ruling, neither YSP nor Tower Hamlets have revealed when she might return back south.
Henry Moore: Back to a Land, is on view at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until September 6th.