As the campaign to keep this iconic post-war sculpture on public display in the East End of London continues, read how the story of Old Flo has unfolded.
1939 – 1945
Producing large-scale works becomes increasingly difficult during WWII and Moore begins sketching Londoners sheltering from air raids in the underground. Kenneth Clark appoints him an official war artist in 1940.
The sketches he makes during this era not only win him popular public appeal but have a profound effect on his later work and offer inspiration for Old Flo.
1956 – 1964
After the devastation brought about by bombing campaigns during WWII, London Country Council (LCC) commissions or purchases over 70 works of art to improve the cultural life of its residents. This is part of a wider regeneration drive to better the lives of Londoners by improving housing and living standards.
One of the works bought is Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture Draped Seated Woman. An area of 1,300 acres in East London is identified to regenerate and includes the building of a new housing estate called the Stifford Estate Estate in Stepney, housing 1,700 residents. Its large grassed open space is to become the new home for Old Flo.
Henry Moore sells the sculpture to the London County Council in 1962 at a reduced price of £7,000. The LCC Advisory Committee on Art oversees the acquisition, and it is understood that works purchased through it are held in perpetuity for the public benefit of London residents.
Draped Seated Woman who was to become affectionately named Old Flo by local residents is displayed within the Stifford Estate Estate. The sculpture epitomises the post-war desire to improve the lives of Londoners. Its story is one of idealism, resilience and the marking of social change in London.
Furthermore, Old Flo is based on Moore's Wartime Shelter drawings of East End residents sheltering in the Central Line at Liverpool Street and elsewhere. Old Flo becomes a symbol of East London, where thousands of people died during the war and 172 were killed in the Bethnal Green tube disaster.
In the same year, the London County Council is abolished and replaced by the Greater London Council.
The Greater London Council is abolished and replaced by several smaller authorities including Tower Hamlets Council. This could be a key moment in the survival of Old Flo as a public sculpture as it is still not clear from the paperwork whether it has title to the sculpture. We have queried this with the Mayor and are currently awaiting a response.
Old Flo is removed following the demolition of the Stiffney Estate and from 1997 is put on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Old Flo on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Henry Moore, Draped Seated Woman, 1957-8. Courtesy London Borough Tower Hamlets. Photo Jonty Wilde
After commissioning a report exploring options and costs for relocating the work within the borough, the Council claim there is nowhere to display the sculpture and that it is ‘uninsurable’.
The commissioned report is presented at a meeting of the Council’s Cabinet where due to a high risk of theft, the cost of insurance and no budget for maintenance, the Council decide to sell the work.
Several local institutions come forward to offer to display the work, and take care of maintenance, security and insurance, including the Museum of London (whose Docklands site is within the borough, and which is free to all), and Queen Mary University. The offers, which would cost the Council nothing, would allow the sculpture to be publicly displayed within the borough.
The Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee meet to discuss and review the Mayor’s decision to sell the sculpture, and recommend it should not be sold. However, the Mayor ignores his Council and confirms the sale will go ahead and that he would not consider alternative options.
There is widespread public opposition to the sale including Danny Boyle and Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota who say the proposal 'goes against the spirit of Henry Moore's original sale'. Artists Bob and Roberta Smith, Jeremy Deller and Rachel Whiteread sign the petition.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman responds with a blog on the Huffington Post defending his decision, 'with more cuts to come my priority is to protect front line services and that entails having to make some tough decisions.'
The Art Fund releases a statement pointing to research that it is not clear that Tower Hamlets has title to the sculpture.
Over 2,500 people have now signed the petition and many Art Fund members have written directly to the Mayor to oppose the sale of Old Flo. The Art Fund is working alongside Henry Moore Foundation, the Museum of London, Tate, Rushanara Ali MP, Mary Creagh MP, Jim Fitzpatrick MP and many others to secure Old Flo for east London residents and are currently awaiting proof of ownership from Tower Hamlets Council who have put the sale on hold.