The highly anticipated return of Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture Draped Seated Woman known locally as “Old Flo” moved a step closer today after it was announced she is to be hosted in Cabot Square in Canary Wharf.
The sculpture which was nearly sold off will finally make her way back home to Tower Hamlets this autumn. Old Flo was originally housed on the Stifford Estate in Stepney and remained there from 1962-1997 after her creator Henry Moore gifted the artwork to the borough. For the last 20 years, Old Flo has been on loan to Yorkshire Sculpture Park meaning residents have been unable to easily view her.
Three organisations put in bids to provide a home to the valuable artwork, for up to five years. 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 stolen for its bronze metal value. Without a high level of security the sculpture would not have been possible to insure.
Canary Wharf Group also demonstrated the ability to position it in an area of high footfall, where it is visible to the people of the East End on a 24/7 basis, as Henry Moore originally intended. The new contract will also deliver a multitude of community and educational benefits to local people and ensure information about Old Flo and the Stifford Estate where she was originally installed is easily accessible. The sculpture will be no further than 20 minutes away for all residents wherever they live in the borough making it accessible to all.
Just a few years ago Old Flo was nearly lost to the borough to be sold off at auction by Christies’ after a decision was made the previous administration 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. Old Flo was nearly lost again to Tower Hamlets after Bromley Council contested ownership of the sculpture in a high court dispute in 2015. The judge ruled in favour of Tower Hamlets being the rightful owners.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs said: “I am delighted that Old Flo is finally on her way back home to Tower Hamlets and the people of the East End. Old Flo is an important part of the borough’s cultural heritage, that’s why we took the decision to cancel the previous Mayor’s sell off and are returning her to her rightful place in the borough. Whilst I would have loved to see Old Flo returned to her old home in Stepney her considerable value means we’ve had to find her a safe and secure home for her for the next five years. My hope is after that she can move even closer into our community, possibly at the new Civic Centre in Whitechapel when it is complete. In the meantime Canary Wharf will be a great and accessible home for Old Flo allowing her to once again add to Tower Hamlets’ already enviable reputation as a creative and cultural borough. We received some excellent bids to host her, but the Canary Wharf Group put forward the best arts initiatives for our residents, along with robust plans to keep the sculpture safe and in a good condition.”
Sir George Iacobescu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Canary Wharf Group added : “It is a huge responsibility to be chosen as the location for Henry Moore’s Draped Seated Woman (“Old Flo”) on her return to Tower Hamlets. We are honoured to have been asked to look after this well-loved art work on behalf of the people of the borough. Old Flo will have pride of place alongside the 65 pieces of public art which are already on display at Canary Wharf and enjoyed by those in Tower Hamlets and workers at Canary Wharf . As one of the main shopping and transport hubs of the borough, we are an easily accessible place where as many people as possible will be able see the sculpture. We can also insure and protect this valuable work. We look forward to an exciting programme of activity and engagement with local schools and residents to ensure everyone in Tower Hamlets has a chance to see Old Flo, working with Tower Hamlets council. More details will be announced shortly.”