In 1962, Henry Moore sold Draped Seated Woman (1957/58) to London County Council (LCC) for it’s newly built Stifford Estate in Stepney, where the sculpture – Old Flo, as she became fondly known – was appreciated by local residents and Londoners alike. The work was acquired by LCC as part of the inspirational Patronage of the Arts Scheme. Moore had accepted a below market value for the work as he believed in the scheme’s provision of placing art in public spaces for the intention of enriching the lives of those living in deprived areas.
For 35 years, Old Flo happily served the residents of the Tower Hamlets housing estate up until its planned demolition in the mid 1990s, when, for fear of the sculpture being stolen for scrap metal, she was moved to Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where she’s lived for the past 20 years.
It wasn’t until the then Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, considered selling the sculpture in 2012 that her fate was yet again uncertain. Due to a huge public outcry and art campaigners’ backlash, a legal battle ensued over the rightful ownership of the work. Although the intention of selling the bronze sculpture, currently valued at £18 million, was supposedly for the purpose of raising funds for the local authority, selling Old Flo for this reason went against the principles of both Moore and the sculpture’s original purpose of bringing a little joy to people’s lives.
But fortunately, even after a ruling that Old Flo was indeed owned by Tower Hamlets, the borough’s new Mayor John Biggs pledged in 2015 to save the 2.5-metre-high sculpture and bring her back to the borough. After a lengthy tender process, including approval from the Henry Moore Foundation, Canary Wharf was chosen to host the sculpture and she was successfully installed in Cabot Square.
‘Old Flo has an important place in our borough’s history and heritage and I am delighted to have her back in the East End where she belongs,’ said John Biggs. ‘Canary Wharf will provide a safe, secure and accessible home for Old Flo for the next five years. Having her here is a demonstration of how important arts and culture are to us in Tower Hamlets and I hope as many people as possible take the opportunity to go and see her now she is back home in East London.’
As Old Flo is now placed among part of Canary Wharf’s public art collection that consists of 65 stand-alone sculptures, she can be appreciated for free, 24 hours a day.
‘Canary Wharf has always invested in public art and we’re proud to be playing a small part in helping to bring Draped Seated Woman back to the East End,’ said Sally Williams, Public Art Consultant for Canary Wharf Group. ‘As well as keeping this valuable piece secure and well-maintained, we will be doing our best to inform local people and other visitors about its history. Half of the daily footfall through Canary Wharf is Tower Hamlets residents, but we will do even more to bring Moore’s work to a new and diverse audience, both from the borough and further afield.’
An exhibition about the history of Old Flo is planned to open in spring 2018, but you don’t have to wait that long to see Draped Seated Woman as it’s on view now for the next five years in Cabot Square, Canary Wharf.