Bromley Council has claimed ownership of Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’, laying further controversy over Tower Hamlet’s plans to sell the sculpture in the face of budget cuts.
The claim follows a move by the Art Fund earlier this month to question whether Tower Hamlets had the right to sell the sculpture. Acting on behalf of the Art Fund law firm Farrer & Co. requested Tower Hamlets Council to produce evidence of ownership, but it failed to do so.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman had initially hit back against the claims in a statement: “For the Art Fund to challenge our ownership after a period of nearly 30 years seems to be a desperate PR stunt.”
The London County Council had acquired the sculpture in 1962 from Henry Moore below market price at £7,500, for display on the Stifford housing estate in Stepney Green. It was part of a wider regeneration programme to improve the lives and living standards of Londoners after the devastation caused by WWII.
In a letter to Tower Hamlets, Bromley Council said the sculpture became the property of the Greater London Council when that authority replaced London County Council. It also said ‘Old Flo’ remained in the ownership of the GLC until its dissolution in 1985, after which it was transferred to Bromley.
Councillor Stephen Carr, Leader of Bromley Council said: “This sculpture must remain in public ownership which is line with the original principles of Henry Moore himself.”
“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. The monies raised would not protect frontline services for very long and would stop future generations appreciating this national treasure.”
Bromley Council has pledged not to sell the work and will be meeting with the Art Fund, the Museum of London, the Tate and the Henry Moore Foundation in the New Year to discuss plans for public display.
In October this year, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman announced his decision to sell the sculpture after “unprecedented” budget cuts.
The Tower Hamlets council planned to sell the sculpture at auction in February 2013, despite opposition from its own council, residents across the borough, arts organisations, and Art Fund members. Almost 3,000 people have signed a petition to “Save Old Flo” and keep the sculpture in Tower Hamlets.
Addressing culture minister Ed Vaizey in Westminster yesterday Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow said: “The proposal to sell this important sculpture is deeply disappointing and sets a dangerous precedent, risking the loss of other important art around the country in these tough economic times.
“The sale of the sculpture goes against the very wishes of Henry Moore who entrusted the sculpture to the people of Tower Hamlets in recognition of their struggles and sacrifices.”
Artist Bob and Roberta Smith, who organised the ‘Old Flo-shmob‘ in front of Tower Hamlets Town Hall in November, said: “Old Flo is London’s equivalent to Picasso’s Guernica. Bromley councillors have the opportunity to stop this tragic misguided sale.”
“The Mayor [Lutfur Rahman] has made a series of misjudgments based on ignorance. It leaves him with no authority on issues of art hope and aspiration.
“I hope Flo’s new legal stewards, Bromley, realize she is an East End girl.”
Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund said in a press release: “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.
“This can only be good news and 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.”
In a statement, Tower Hamlets disputed the findings: “Tower Hamlets council refute that Bromley have any right to the asset.
“Bromley maintain in their letter that the asset was acquired for Londoners as a whole. However LBTH [London borough of Tower Hamlets] has checked the minutes of the LCC general purposes committee for 15 May 1962, which authorised the purchase and these specifically state that the statue was ‘to be sited in Stifford Estate (Stepney).’”
“There is no dispute between any of the parties that the Stifford Estate transferred to LBTH during local government reorganisation.”