Henry Moore statue: Minister's concerns over sale plan

Old Flo, Henry Moore's Draped Seated Woman
Image caption 'Old Flo' is Henry Moore's tribute to Londoners' suffering during the air raids of World War II

For the past 15 years a bronze statue known affectionately as Old Flo has been sitting quietly in a field near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Now her planned sale is provoking a national outcry and the lady is certainly not going quietly.

This week there was even a debate in Parliament and Culture Minister Ed Vaisey made it very clear he is not happy about the move.

'Old Flo' is really the Henry Moore masterpiece Draped Seated Woman which the West Yorkshire sculptor made as a tribute to the ordeal suffered by Londoners as they huddled in shelters during the lethal air raids of World War II.

Moore had been living and working in the East End himself through the Blitz so he thought the figure should be seen by the people who shared that experience.

In 1962 he sold the 1.6 tonne bronze to the City of London County Council at the knock-down price of £7,500 and 'Old Flo' was put on display on an East London council housing estate.

In 1999, tormented by vandalism, she temporarily moved to the tranquillity of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, but it was always assumed a safer permanent public home would be found for her back in East London.

£20m temptation

That was until earlier this year when Lutfur Rahman, the directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets, the modern day council for the area, announced he wanted to sell the bronze for an estimated £20m to boost the borough's cash-strapped budget.

He claims the council cannot afford to transport, site and insure the masterpiece, so it would be better to auction it off to the highest bidder.

Image caption Ed Vaisey has stepped into the row stating the sculpture cannot be sold until the dispute is settled

However, even his own local councillors and the Tower Hamlets MP say he is wrong. They worry it could finish up in a foreign collection and the both the Museum of London and a University College have offered to provide a permanent home.

In the end a legal challenge over its ownership could end the argument. Moore sold the work to the old City of London County Council. It was replaced by the Greater London Council, which itself was dissolved in the 1980s.

So is the fact that its original display site was on land now owned by the modern Borough of Tower Hamlets enough to give its mayor the right to sell it off?

Vaisey's dilemma

For the first time Culture Minister Ed Vaisey has stepped in saying any auction cannot go ahead until that dispute is settled.

In this week's parliamentary debate called to discuss the future of the Moore masterpiece he revealed he had taken the unusual step of directly explaining his view to Christie's, the auctioneers commissioned to start the sale process.

The minister admits the final decision on the statue's future is in the hands of its legal owners and government has little power to intervene.

But now the sale has been put on hold until that ownership dispute has been resolved it is looking as though 'Old Flo' will be staying in her temporary country home in West Yorkshire for some time to come.

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