High court rules Tower Hamlets is legal owner of “Old Flo”

Sculpture could return to London after mayor drops sale plans
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Rebecca Atkinson
The high court has ruled that Tower Hamlets Council is the legal owner of the Henry Moore sculpture known as Old Flo.

The artwork, which is officially titled Draped Seated Woman, has been subject to a legal battle after Bromley Council claimed rights to it in 2012.

Old Flo was bought from the artist by London County Council for £6,000 in 1962 and displayed at the Stifford Estate (now in Tower Hamlets) until 1997, when it went to Yorkshire Sculpture Park on long-term loan.

However, research carried out by the Art Fund and the Museum of London suggested that legal ownership could lie with Bromley Council, as the successor of the London Residuary Body, which was set up to dispose of the London County Council’s assets when it was dissolved in 1986.

At a high court hearing last week, the judge ruled that the Moore sculpture “now belongs to Tower Hamlets”.

John Briggs, the recently elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “I want to reiterate my intention to reverse the previous mayor’s decision to sell Draped Seated Woman. I believe that it belongs to the people of east London and should be available locally for public enjoyment.”  

Bromley’s legal challenge was brought after Lutfur Rahman, then mayor of Tower Hamlets, proposed selling Old Flo to help offset £100m of budget cuts. The sculpture had been scheduled for auction in February 2013.

As previously reported by Museums Journal one of Biggs’s mayoral pledges was to “keep the borough's Henry Moore sculpture, Old Flo, in the council's ownership and return it to Tower Hamlets as part of a broader cultural strategy”.

It has not been decided when the sculpture will return to London or where it will be displayed, although the Museum of London has offered to display it outside its Docklands museum.

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