Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman on display at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Legal challenge over ownership of "Old Flo"

Rebecca Atkinson, 30.11.2012
Art Fund questions whether Tower Hamlets council can sell Moore sculpture
Tower Hamlets council has rejected a motion to reconsider selling a Henry Moore sculpture despite a legal challenge to its ownership of the work.

Draped Seated Woman, which is reportedly worth up to £17m, was bought by London County Council for £6,000 in 1962 and displayed at the Stifford Estate until 1997, when Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) borrowed the piece.

The council intends to sell the sculpture through Christie’s next year in order to offset £100m spending cuts.

A motion calling for the sale to be stopped was raised by councillors at a meeting earlier this week. They also called on the council to fully investigate alternatives to a sale – including an offer from the Museum of London Docklands to display “Old Flo”, as the work is often known.

This proposal has received support from the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and the director of Tate, Nicholas Serota.

The Art Fund has also raised concerns about the sale and instructed the solicitors Farrer’s to challenge the council’s ownership of the artwork. In a statement, it said its research suggests that works of public art were handled separately from land and buildings when the London County Council and the Greater London Council were dissolved. 

The Art Fund has 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 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.”

Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “For the Art Fund to challenge our ownership after a period of nearly 30 years seems to be a desperate PR stunt.  First we had members of the art world telling a poverty stricken borough not to sell the sculpture, then we were told to place Old Flo out of reach of borough residents in an inaccessible inner courtyard of the Barbican and now they say we do not even own it.”

But spokesman for the Museum of London said: “The council has been very keen to suggest that it is the cultural elite objecting to the sale, but this is something that Londoners and particularly local people also feel passionate about. They they have a right to enjoy public art and we ask Tower Hamlets to listen to Londoners.”

The sculpture was due to be collected by Christie’s from YSP this week but ground conditions caused by heavy rain mean this has been postponed. A spokeswoman for the park said she believed that the collection was “imminent”.

Peter Murray, executive director of YSP, called for Old Flo to remain on public display in an open letter to the Observer newspaper, also signed by the filmmaker Danny Boyle and Mary Moore, the artist’s daughter.


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Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
20.12.2012, 14:20
There's been an update to the legal challenge, with Bromley Council putting forward a claim to ownership. Full story here - http://www.museumsassociation.org/museums-journal/news/20122012-new-legal-challenge-threatens-sale-of-moore-sculpture
20.12.2012, 12:11
There is no simple solution to either gaps in council funding for essential services nor for protecting important historic art collections. It is absolutely right that selling the Moore will simply plug a gap at this moment: what it won't do is plug the gap indefinitely. Art is not simply there to be used to pay the bank when the demand comes in. Art can be an important part of our well-being - talk to anyone who has worked with women prisoners or people with mental health problems who have benefited from working with art. We are in a spiral of the quick fix in this country and we need to think more creatively, ironically, to come up with better and more long-term solutions to funding issues as these are not going to go away now or in the future. We need to find ways in which councils can fund essential services and use their fantastic art holdings in a way that will benefit the communities they serve.
MA Member
20.12.2012, 00:03
This comment has been removed by the moderator because it did not adhere to our community rules.
MA Member
19.12.2012, 14:19
It's a bit rich seeing the Art Fund (who elected you?) and the Museum of London (who elected you?) lecture Tower Hamlets councillors about listening to the people of Tower Hamlets (who, I believe, elected the councillors to make decisions on their behalf - and what the councillors are doing, like councillors all over the country, is trying to cope with the enormous cuts in funding imposed on them by central Government). Local authorities, custodians of most of the museum collections in this country, are in big trouble - and people need to wake up to why that is.
MA Member
17.12.2012, 16:31
What about the funding gap next year? Sure, the sale of this piece will plug a hole this time round but when further cuts are asked for, the money won't be there and nor will the art work, and the people of Tower Hamlets will be the worse off for it. The offer by Docklands seems entirely reasonable and is in the spirit of Henry Moore's original gift. When did it become ok for councils to raid their museums and galleries to help balance the books?
06.12.2012, 19:13
The councillors at Southampton City Council are once more lining up paintings and sculptures to sell in order to fund running expenses of the City Art Gallery. Self defeating really.
06.12.2012, 13:24
Why do LAs think people do not need CULTURE and ART ?? We in Northampton have similar problems with NBC set to sell the 4500 year ole Egyptian Funerary statue, Sekhemka. NBC claim that it via the local museums own the statue BUT there are no records showing that the 3rd Marquis of Northampton actually donated the statue to the people of Northampton - we have FoI requests out to establish ownership but ... So no doubt somebody unscrupulous person will buy the statue and worry about provenance/ownership later. HELP us PLEASE! All NBC has consulted on is WHAT to spend the money on - one alternative being a VAGUE museum extension! There has been NO consulation on whether to sell or not. HELP US STOP THE SALE and tell us how we can help you!
06.12.2012, 10:09
Of course, why didn’t they think of this before? There’s no need for austerity measures. We can clear the deficit in an auction. Let’s see, there are the Lions of Trafalgar square, Nelson, Eros, Peter Pan of Kensington, The Albert memorial, Boudicca of Westminster Bridge. Talking of bridges why not flog Tower Bridge to the Americans they expressed an interest in the past. Oh! What about Big Ben, 13.5 tons of bronze, that’s got to be worth a few bob! Great logic, you should be very proud, well done!