Henry Moore’s Old Flo was not gift to East End, says Tower Hamlets mayor

Claims that Henry Moore’s ‘Draped Seated Woman’ sculpture was a gift to the people of London’s East End are being disputed today by Tower Hamlets Council.

The 8ft bronze artwork known as ‘Old Flo’ is going under the auctioneer’s hammer at Christie’s in February after Mayor Lutfur Rahman told his cabinet last Wednesday that he’s putting it up for sale to the highest bidder.

Town Hall officials last night insisted it was “not a gift” as reported widely in the media.

Council lawyers “have an email from 2009 from the Henry Moore Foundation saying they believe the sculpture was purchased at cost price,” the Town Hall insisted.

It follows the Mayor saying in his blog: “There has been international interest in our decision to sell a much-loved sculpture that our borough bought many years ago—it wasn’t donated.”

But the authority’s predecessor, Stepney borough council, never paid a penny for it, the Mayor’s spokesman later admitted.

It was, in fact, a gift to the East End from the London County Council, it has emerged.

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Meanwhile, the Museum of London Docklands which has offered to house the 1.5 tonne work disputes the council’s right to sell it.

“Tower Hamlets Council does not own the sculpture,” said museum director Sharon Ament.

“It was sold directly to the LCC for a below-market knockdown price by Moore in 1962, with the understanding it would be placed in east London.

“He waived all fees to bring ‘Old Flo’ to her new home as the centrepiece of the LCC’s Stifford estate in Stepney, where it sat until 1997 when the estate was demolished.”

She added: “In truth, Tower Hamlets Council doesn’t own it at all—it holds it in trust for the people of the borough.”

Henry Moore waived his consultation fees for transportation, packaging and erecting on the site, which campaigners say was his gift to the East End.

The LCC handed ownership to the newly-formed GLC that took over in 1965. Ownership was then transferred without charge to Tower Hamlets along with the Stifford Estate when the GLC itself was abolished in 1986—no money changed hands.

But the work could have gone for double or nearly treble the original �7,000 price tag, according to the Henry Moore Trust.

The trust’s Communications Head, Rebecca Land, told the Advertiser: “Similar pieces at the time sold between �15,000 and �20,000.

“Our archives show Moore waved his consultancy fees. His desire was to see Old Flo placed in Stepney—that’s why it was sold at a knock down price.”

But she added: “We can’t say it was a gift—it’s an interpretation of Moore’s wishes. It’s up to others to interpret whether it’s a gift.”

The trust says it supports “wholeheartedly” the museum’s offer to house the sculpture.

Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali and London Mayor Boris Johnson have both attacked the sale, along with top film director Danny Boyle and leading figures from the art world, including the artist’s daughter Mary.

A ‘flash mob’ protest was held outside the Town Hall on Monday when 40 demonstrators turned up dressed as the ‘Draped Woman’.

The flash mob was ‘sparked’ by Tate Gallery trustee Bob Smith, who said: “It’s madness to sell Old Flo—the vision and foresight of previous generations should not be dismantled and sold off to cover Town Hall ineptitude.”

But Christie’s have confirmed that Tower Hamlets has instructed them to auction the sculpture in February.