Saved for the public, but the Yorkshire holiday is over for Henry Moore’s Old Flo

SHE TOOK refuge in Yorkshire after being made homeless and became the focus of a legal row that had major implications for art in the public realm.

By Lindsay Pantry
Wednesday, 8th July 2015, 5:13 pm
Henry Moore's 'Draped seated woman',at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Henry Moore's 'Draped seated woman',at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Now Henry Moore’s much-loved sculpture Draped Seated Woman, or Old Flo as she is more affectionately known, could be heading back to East London - where the art world seems to agree she belongs.

The large bronze, created by the Castleford-born sculptor in 1957, has been in the care of Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) since 1997, when the Stifford Estate in Tower Hamlets, where she had resided since 1962, was demolished, leaving her without a home.

In 2012, Old Flo was placed under the media spotlight when then-Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, announced he planned to sell the £20m sculpture to the highest bidder in an attempt to offset £100m of budget cuts.

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Old Flo could soon be back in Tower Hamlets, east London. Picture: Johnny Green/PA Wire

The decision sparked outcry from the art world and beyond, fearing the piece would end up in a private collection, out of the eyes of the public - and set a precedent of cash-strapped local authorities selling public art.

Campaigners unearthed evidence querying its true ownership, paving the way for a judicial review and a High Court battle.

Nearby Bromley Council claimed rights over the sculpture, which delayed the sale, and today as Tower Hamlets was declared the owner, Bahman’s successor, new mayor John Biggs announced the sale was officially off - much to the delight of campaigners.

Now Mr Biggs said he intends on bringing Old Flo back to the East London borough, where it “should be available locally for public enjoyment.”

Henry Moore

The Museum of London, which campaigned against the sale of Draped Seated Woman and helped bring about the legal action which delayed the sale, has offered to display it outside its Docklands gallery, but neither Tower Hamlets nor YSP could confirm to The Yorkshire Post when she might leave the fields of West Bretton.

Executive director of YSP, Peter Murray, said: “Draped Seated Woman by Henry Moore was brought to YSP at the request of Tower Hamlets in 1997 for restoration and safe-keeping. Over 400,000 visitors to YSP now enjoy this significant and well-loved work every year.

“We wholeheartedly welcome the recent decision by Tower Hamlets’ mayor, John Biggs, to keep the work in the public realm and are very grateful for its continued loan.”

Draped Seated Woman was made by Moore to reflect the figures he saw sheltering in the London Underground during the Blitz.

Antony Robbins, the Museum of London’s head of communications, said the selling off of Old Flo could have had serious implications for other publicly-owned art, and that he was “delighted” the sale had been halted.

“We feel passionately that Henry Moore intended this important artwork for the people of London and particularly the people of Tower Hamlets, which suffered so badly during the Blitz,” he said.

“The reason we opposed the sale so fervently was because it went against the intentions of the artist, and it risked going out of public view forever, into a private collection and possibly even abroad.

“Sending Old Flo to Yorkshire was the right thing to do at the time, as she had fallen into disrepair, the estate was bulldozed and she needed looking after, but now shes had her holiday, it’s time for her to come back home.”

Influence of landscape

HENRY Moore’s boyhood experiences in the rolling Yorkshire landscape helped to shape his work long after he left his home.

The sculptor was born in Castleford in 1898 to a mining family and went on to become one of the most celebrated British artists of the 20th century, famed for his figures.

At the opening of a major exhibition of her father’s work at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in March, his daughter Mary Moore told The Yorkshire Post: “My father was born a sculptor, his influences were all around him, and he created a new vocabulary, one where the human body, or the forms of the human body, started to relate to the shapes of the landscape.” The YSP exhibition runs until September.