People of the East End win High Court battle for Henry Moore’s ‘Old Flo’

PUBLISHED: 13:00 09 July 2015 | UPDATED: 13:00 09 July 2015

Henry Moore (inset) and his 'Old Flo' sculpture kept for safe keeping in a Yorkshire field

Henry Moore (inset) and his 'Old Flo' sculpture kept for safe keeping in a Yorkshire field

Henry Moore Trust

The battle for ‘Old Flo’ has been won in the High Court by the people of London’s East End.

Moore's sculpture 'Draped Seated Woman’ erected on Stepney's Stifford housing estate in 1962Moore's sculpture 'Draped Seated Woman’ erected on Stepney's Stifford housing estate in 1962

Tower Hamlets Council was declared the legal owner of Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman sculpture yesterday, which ends a three-year wrangle.

The struggle began over plans by former Tower Hamlets executive mayor Lutfur Rahman to put the 8ft heritage statue on the market, brushing aside protests and a national campaign to save it for the public.

But the new mayor of Tower Hamlets, Labour’s John Biggs, has pledged to return Old Flo to the East End, currently languishing in a field in Yorkshire.

“I want to reverse the previous mayor’s decision to sell Henry Moore’s sculpture,” Mayor Biggs pledged.

“Old Flo belongs to the people of east London and should be available locally for public enjoyment.”

The council has been involved in a three-year ownership battle with Bromley Council in south London, which claimed rights to the bronze artwork, created by Moore in 1957, as successors to the London Residuary Body which took over the statue when the former GLC was disbanded by the Thatcher government in 1986.

Moore sold the work for £6,000 ‘cost price’ to the old London County Council in 1962 as a gift to the East End. It was erected in Jamaica Street next to Ewhurst House tower block on Stepney’s newly-built Stifford Estate, where it remained until the housing complex was pulled down in 1997 and sent for “safe keeping” to Yorkshire.

Old Flo—the nickname given by the people of Stepney—largely went unnoticed until Mayor Rahman wanted to sell it in 2012 to rake in £20 million for the Town Hall coffers.

Bromley Council got wind of it and applied for a court injunction—and the legal battle for ownership got under way.

Judge Justice Norris finally declared yesterday: “The Henry Moore sculpture ‘Draped Seated Woman’ now belongs to Tower Hamlets.”

Rahman—now barred from office by the High Court for election malpractice—had claimed there was no suitable location to put the work on public display, despite the Museum of London Docklands offering to house it at West India Quay while both Canary Wharf Group and Queen Mary College in Mile End showing interest in playing host.

Film-maker Danny Boyle was among leading figures signing an open letter urging him not to sell the 1.5 tonne sculpture which 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, Bethnal Green & Bow MP Rushanara Ali, Henry Moore Foundation’s Richard Calvocoressi and Tate Gallery director Nicholas Serota.

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