The Art Fund has been contacted by many of our members and supporters within Tower Hamlets, and across the UK, who share our concern about the planned sale of Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman (or ‘Old Flo’) by Tower Hamlets Council.
After initial research, it is not clear that Tower Hamlets has title to the sculpture. Our research suggests that works of public art were handled separately from land and buildings when both the London County Council and the Greater London Council were dissolved. For this reason our lawyers have been in touch with the Council to ask for more information, which they have so far failed to provide. The Council would have surely addressed this before commissioning a sale through Christie’s, and should be easily and quickly able to provide evidence of ownership.
To ask this basic question of them is the most fundamental issue to be addressed before any sale can take place. Ownership must be established beyond reasonable doubt before a work of art can be sold. No-one has previously queried who owns ‘Old Flo’, as no-one has previously wanted to sell it.
We have also questioned the way in which the decision to sell was reached. Tower Hamlets Council claimed the sculpture was ‘uninsurable’, but this is simply not true. The Council received several offers to display, conserve and insure ‘Old Flo’, including from the Museum of London (where it could form the centrepiece of its Docklands Museum within the borough and be freely available to all), but it has refused to consider these. We believe the Council owes it to the people of Tower Hamlets to consider all options before reaching a decision.
The Council may be cash-strapped but with an annual turnover of £1 billion selling this iconic and much-loved work will not reverse its fortunes. If this sale goes through unchallenged then it sets a precedent for other councils to follow suit, leaving our public spaces bereft of art.
The Art Fund is a charity funded by almost 100,000 ordinary people across the UK. Ultimately we work for the public benefit. As so many of our members in the Borough of Tower Hamlets have contacted us with regard to this issue and over 2,500 people have so far signed a petition against the sale this is an issue that we feel strongly about.
As well as the support of our members, the Art Fund is supported in our efforts by the Henry Moore Foundation, the Museum of London, Tate, Rushanara Ali MP, Mary Creagh MP, Jim Fitzpatrick MP and many others.