Moore's Old Flo Returns to Tower Hamlets
A Henry Moore sculpture which for over 30 years was on public display at a housing estate in Stepney has recently returned to Tower Hamlets after an absence of more than 20 years.
Moore’s Draped Seated Woman was bought by the LCC from the sculptor and placed on a site near three 17-storey tower blocks at the Stifford Estate in Stepney a few years after they were built in 1961. When the towers were demolished in the late 1990s, the sculpture – which locals had nicknamed “Old Flo” – was sent on a long-term loan to Yorkshire where it was displayed in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. She was recently returned to Tower Hamlets and is currently displayed in Cabot Square at Canary Wharf. So Flo has come home – but not quite to the place where she used to live.
In the 1950s and 1960s the LCC operated a scheme for acquiring works of art for public display and some of the works they bought, like Old Flo, were displayed on housing estates. Another example is the sculpture of a mother and child -- called The Lesson by Franta Belsky -- at the Avebury Estate in Bethnal Green.
Old Flo was one of the works inspired by Moore’s experiences of London in the Blitz.
She was sent to Yorkshire partly for her own protection at a time when there had been a number of thefts of large bronze sculptures for their scrap value.
Tower Hamlets Borough Council proposed to sell the sculpture in 2012, claiming it was uninsurable. By now its value had grown from the £7,000 Moore had been paid for it to an estimated several million pounds which the council argued would better be used on public services. The sale was delayed by protests, from – among others -- figures in the world of arts like Danny Boyle and Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota. And the council’s ownership of the work was challenged.
By the time a court held that Old Flo belonged to Tower Hamlets, the borough had a new mayor whose policy was to keep the sculpture. However, a secure place for it still had to be found and Canary Wharf Group were chosen to provide that.
So Flo has returned. But not to quite the same place as before. Putting her amid the offices and high-end shops at Canary Wharf is not the same as the original siting of her beside the homes of ordinary East End residents. The 1960s ideals that the LCC’s policy on works of art reflected are not so widely held to today.