Henry Moore sculpture returns to Tower Hamlets

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs in front of Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman in Cabot Square. Pic: Holly Patrick

Henry Moore’s famous work Draped Seated Woman has returned to the East End after 20 years in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The piece, sculpted in 1957, now stands in Cabot Square in the heart of Canary Wharf.

Known as Old Flo, the 2.5 metre sculpture is worth £18m and weighs 1.6 tonnes. It was first acquired by London County Council in 1962, as part of their regeneration policy.

The sculpture first stood in Tower Hamlets’ Stifford Estate on a landscaped lawn, and became the figurehead of post-war development in the borough – the estate was a landmark social housing estate, hosting 1,700 residents in three blocks. A gift from the artist, Old Flo stood in the East End until 1997 when it was loaned to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Mayor John Biggs remarked on how beautiful Old Flo is, and told Eastlondonlines: “It’s really about it returning to the East End, which just happens to be at Canary Wharf. It’s reconnecting the old and the new, as a part of East End history.”

The sculpture will remain in Canary Wharf for the next five years before returning to its former home of Stepney. Biggs told Eastlondonlines how important it was to find the right home for her in the meantime: “We had a competition for someone to host it. Part of the problem is that it’s worth so much – you need to have somewhere where it’s secure and watched. [Canary Wharf] is a good place.

“There was an independent judging panel, which included the Henry Moore Foundation. They’re doing some educational work to remind people of their connections to the East End.”

Henry Moore was born in Castleford, Yorkshire, in 1898, and became one of the most significant artists of the 20th Century – he was said to have kick-started a British sculptural renaissance. He gained recognition as an internationally-renowned sculptor, receiving the International Sculpture Prize at the 24th Venice Biennale in 1948 and establishing himself as a figure of Post-war optimism.

Draped Seated Woman is one of six castings made by Moore in the 1950s. During the Blitz he would often sketch people sheltering in the Underground, wrapped in layers of thick clothing. This sparked his interest in drapery, affirmed by his visit to Greece where he observed classical sculptures adorned in folded materials which drew attention to elements of the human form.

Inspired by the artwork he saw abroad, Moore used drapery to mask and enhance the size and weight of his sculptures. There are seven casts of the figure, displayed in six different countries: Belgium, Israel, Germany, America, Australia and here in the UK.

The sculpture was originally intended to be part of a commission for the new UNESCO headquarters in Paris, but Moore withdrew his ideas for his commission, ultimately using travertine for his piece UNESCO Reclining Figure 1957-8.

As for her future, Old Flo’s homecoming is imminent. Biggs said: “It’s a two stage process – the plan is to have Old Flo in the forecourt of the new town hall we’re building in Whitechapel.”

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