Henry Moore sculpture Draped Seated Woman returns to the East End after 20 years

Henry Moore Old Flo with Mayor

The Mayor with Henry Moore's "Old Flo"

Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman has made a triumphant return to the East End, following a twenty year stay in Yorkshire. Known affectionately as ‘Old Flo’, the famous bronze sculpture was originally housed on the Stifford Estate in Stepney, having been purchased from the sculptor by the London County Council (LCC) in 1962 as part of its inspirational Patronage of the Arts scheme. 

For the last 20 years, Old Flo has been on loan to Yorkshire Sculpture Park meaning local residents have not easily been able to catch a glimpse of her. The sculpture has now returned to the East End this month and will be hosted in Canary Wharf’s Cabot Square. The move comes after Canary Wharf Group won an open tender to bring Draped Seated Woman back to Tower Hamlets.

Following a detailed and independent scoring process, including representatives of the Henry Moore Foundation, it was agreed that Canary Wharf Group had set out the best plans to make Old Flo accessible to residents whilst ensuring the security of the renowned sculpture, amid fears that it could be vandalised or stolen for its bronze metal value. With an estimated value of £18 million, Old Flo required a safe and secure home for the next five years. She will be positioned amongst Canary Wharf’s public art collection that now comprises over 65 stand-alone sculptures, as well as pieces integrated with the architectural fabric of the estate.

Draped Seated Woman will be able to be seen and enjoyed by East End residents and Londoners alike, 24 hours a day. The tremendous bronze sculpture, which is 2.5 metres high, was nearly lost to the borough to be sold off at auction by Christie’s after a decision was made by the previous Mayor of Tower Hamlets to sell the multi-million-pound sculpture.

When Mayor Biggs was elected in June 2015 one of his first decisions as Mayor was to save Old Flo and start the process of bringing her back to the borough.

The sculpture had originally been purchased by London County Council for its newly built Stifford Estate in Stepney in 1962. Like numerous other works of art procured by the LCC for its Patronage of the Arts Scheme, it was to be displayed in a public space to enrich the lives of those living in a socially deprived area. Following the demise of the Greater London Council, which succeeded the LCC, Tower Hamlets Council was eventually deemed to be the rightful owner of the sculpture after a High Court ruling in 2015.

One of the reasons Canary Wharf was successful in their bid to host Henry Moore’s monumental sculpture is the Estate’s extensive arts and events programme which aims to make art more accessible. Engagement with the area’s public art is proactively encouraged, for example through regular art walking tours on the Estate. To help local children engage with Henry Moore’s piece, Canary Wharf Group will produce educational materials for local school children and a lesson plan for their teachers. For the wider public, an exhibition about the history of Old Flo will open in Canary Wharf in spring 2018.

 John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:

 “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.

 “When the previous Mayor tried to sell off Old Flo local people were outraged. That’s why as soon as I was elected I cancelled the sale and took the decision to bring her home instead.

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.”

 Sally Williams, Public Art Consultant for Canary Wharf Group, comments:

 “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. 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.”

Having this artistic treasure return to Tower Hamlets is a cultural boost for the borough as it prepares to make a bid to become the London Borough of Culture. The borough has been built on entrepreneurship as people come from across the world to make better lives for themselves. Stories of travel, creativity and enterprise define the area and create a melting pot of culture, enterprise and talent. Step out onto our streets and you will find world class art and culture like Henry Moore’s Old Flo bronze, an annual season of Bangla Drama and even the birthplace of grime.

Back Tower Hamlets’ bid for London Borough of Culture using the hashtag: #ShowtimeTH

Posted on Wednesday 25th October 2017