Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Lady’ up for auction, Tower Hamlets mayor vows

PUBLISHED: 07:56 08 November 2012 | UPDATED: 11:50 14 November 2012

Henry Moore’s famous ‘Draped Seated Woman’ bronze sculpture erected for the people of London’s East End 50 years ago is being sold off at Christie’s, Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman decided last night.

Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman defied a public outcry and calls by MPs and figures from the world of art and film not to auction the 8ft artwork—known as ‘Old Flo’, currently housed in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park—to the highest bidder.

He made the pronouncement at his cabinet meeting last night, in the face of a public petition signed by 1,500 people and an open letter by leading figures including film director Danny Boyle, Henry Moore’s daughter and Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali.

“We have huge savings to make—the government has forced us into lean times,” he told the cabinet.

“The position is still the difficulty of placing the statue in a safe place.

“I act with a heavy heart—but this is the position we’ve been put in.”

The money will go into “art, housing and heritage projects.”

He added: “We are working to a tough timetable—if we don’t act now it won’t be in time to be included in Christie’s catalogue until 2013. So I have decided to stand by my previous decision.”

He made no reference to the petition or campaign to retain the sculpture for the people of the East End.

Labour’s Cllr Ann Jackson, who presented a report to the cabinet from the previous night’s council scrutiny committee ‘calling in’ his decision to sell off the sculpture, later told the Advertiser: “I’m really upset for the residents who haven’t been consulted. No proper process has been followed—the mayor has just decided to sell it.”

Councillors had earlier noted that “no real alternatives” had been considered but to “sell the sculpture without care for the consequences or other viable options.”

Labour’s Heritage Spokesperson Denise Jones said: “The mayor refused to listen to residents’ views—it shows how closed-minded he is.”

Offers had been received to house the sculpture from the Museum of London Docklands, Queen Mary College—and even Bethnal Green’s Morpeth Secondary School.

MP Rushanara Ali said later: “The sculpture belongs to the people of the East End and should remain in public ownership and be available for everyone to enjoy as Henry Moore intended it.

“This is a betrayal of the East End’s working class heritage. The sale will only make a small contribution to the council’s budget and raises serious concerns about the Mayor’s wasteful use of public money to fund his extravagant lifestyle.”

The mayor’s cabinet member for culture, Rania Khan, backed the decision. She had told Tuesday’s scrutiny committee: “We have to make difficult decisions. Yes, it’s a beautiful piece of art, but that £20m would go a long way.”

Danny Boyle was among nine leading figures signing an open letter at the weekend urging Mayor Rahman not to sell the 1.5 tonne sculpture.

The letter stated that it went “against the spirit of Moore’s original sale on the understanding that it would be placed in East London.”

The presence of the sculpture in Stepney “demonstrated the post-war belief that everyone should have access to works of art of the highest quality.”

Others signing the letter included Moore’s daughter Mary Moore, MP Rushanara Ali, Wakefield MP Mary Creagh, the Henry Moore Foundation director Richard Calvocoressi and Tate Gallery director Nicholas Serota.

Henry Moore sold his sculpture for £6,000 to the London County Council in 1962 as a gift to the East End. It was erected in Jamaica Street where it remained until the Stifford housing estate was pulled down in 1997 and was sent for “safe keeping” to Yorkshire.

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