Legal challenge threatens sale of Moore sculpture

Ed Vaizey says ownership dispute must be resolved
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Rebecca Atkinson
The culture minister Ed Vaisey yesterday stepped into the ongoing dispute over the sale of Henry Moore sculpture by Tower Hamlets Council, saying it shouldn't go ahead until ownership of the work is resolved.

His comments came as Bromley Council revealed it had written to Tower Hamlets to assert ownership of the work in light of “significant new evidence”.

Draped Seated Woman, which is also known as Old Flo, was bought from the artist by London County Council (LCC) for £6,000 in 1962 and displayed at the Stifford Estate in Stepney until the late 1990s when it was transferred on long-term loan to Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP).

Tower Hamlets Council, which assumes ownership of the artwork, earlier this year announced plans to sell Old Flo at Christie’s in order to offset £100m spending cuts. It says it cannot afford to keep the sculpture on public display because of insurance costs and the risk of vandalism.

The proposal has sparked controversy, with nearly 3,000 people signing a petition to stop the sale and figures such as Tate director Nicholas Serota and Moore’s daughter Mary voicing their opposition.

The Museum of London has offered to home Old Flo at its Docklands site, while the Art Fund has challenged the council’s ownership claims.

When the LCC was dissolved in 1963 and replaced by the Greater London Council (GLC), Stepney was transferred into the newly created Tower Hamlets Council.

But the Art Fund and Bromley Council claim that while this included the land and buildings comprising the Stifford Estate, Moore’s sculpture was not listed in the transfer order – meaning it remained the property of the Greater London Council until its dissolution in 1985, when all its assets were entrusted to the London Residuary Body.

When this was wound up in 11 years later, all of its remaining assets were transferred to the London Borough of Bromley.

Stephen Carr, leader of Bromley Council, pledged not to sell the sculpture and put it on public display.

He added: "Local authorities need to face financial reality and look at the longer term challenges. The monies raised would not protect frontline services for very long and would stop future generations appreciating this national treasure.”

Tower Hamlets Council refuted Bromley’s claims.

Speaking in Parliament earlier this week, Vaizey said the removal of Old Flo from public display was “lamentable” but added that the government have no specific powers to intervene.

He added: “I share the concern and disappointment of many people at the potential loss of this sculpture from public view, but the government cannot dictate the outcome. I am not in a position to wave a magic wane… First and foremost, the question of ownership must be resolved.”

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