Fears over Henry Moore sale

  • 9 November 2012

The Art Fund is concerned that an increasing number of local authorities are contemplating selling off art as a way of plugging gaps in their public finances and offsetting severe budget cuts.

Henry Moore, Draped Seated Woman, which is being sold by Tower Hamlets Council

Henry Moore, Draped Seated Woman, which is being sold by Tower Hamlets Council

Although we understand the financial pressures they face, raising funds in this way cannot be sustainable and goes against the long-term public interest.

Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman is an important work of art and a significant social, cultural and financial asset for London and, more generally, for this country. As the Artist's daughter Mary Moore asserts, the original sale of the sculpture was made to London County Council (LCC) at less than market value and crucially on the understanding that the sculpture would be placed in East London, on public display. As the LCC no longer exists there are surely questions around Tower Hamlets' legal - let alone moral - right to sell Draped Seated Woman. 

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund said, 'Henry Moore sold the sculpture at a great discount on the understanding it would remain on public display within what is now the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. To sell it would go against the wishes of the artist who effectively part-gifted it to the council on these terms. In view of this, we believe the council has no right to sell the work and, if it does, will permanently damage the public's and future donors' trust in the council.'

Although we appreciate the financial difficulties Tower Hamlets council faces, we are not convinced that the sale would, in any case, make a significant difference in the face of these – as Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets puts it – 'horrendous cuts'. The estimated value of the work is between £5 million and £20 million. Last year, Tower Hamlets' total expenditure was £1.3 billion. 

The Museum of London's proposal to display the sculpture at its London Docklands site not only concurs with the spirit in which the artist originally made the sale but also preserves it as a part of the capital's cultural heritage. This gives Tower Hamlets an opportunity, as supported by the Mayor of London, to preserve Moore's sculpture within the borough for future generations to benefit from. We urge them to look again at this offer.