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£17m statue stand-off as London councils persist in rival claims

13 November 2013Written by ATG Reporter

The ownership dispute over a Henry Moore sculpture dubbed Old Flo looks set to rumble on despite one side claiming victory and making plans to sell it.

Tower Hamlets council ran into strong opposition from many groups when they decided to sell off the work, formally known as Draped Seated Woman and valued at up to £17m, which has been on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park since the estate in London's East End where it was located was demolished.

Bromley council in south-east London also claimed ownership, but now Tower Hamlets are adamant that the challenge is unsubstantiated and they will sell the work to offset budget cuts. They are working with Christie's to set up the sale.

However, Bromley are just as determined to have the final say and will continue efforts to block any sale, saying the statue should be kept on public display, as Moore intended.

London County Council (LCC) bought the statue in 1962 and sited it on the Stifford estate in Stepney - a location now in Tower Hamlets. When the estate was knocked down in the 1990s, the sculpture was sent to Yorkshire.

Transfer of Property

Tower Hamlets say their ownership derives from the transfer of powers from the LCC but Bromley - supported by the Museum of London and the Art Fund - say that after the LCC, the Greater London Council (GLC) and then the London Residuary Body were dissolved, the rights actually passed to them under The London Residuary Body (Transfer of Property etc) Order 1990.

Although the land and buildings comprising the Stifford Estate were transferred to Tower Hamlets, Bromley say that the sculpture remained the property of the GLC until its dissolution in 1985 and then became vested in the London Residuary Body.

It is unclear from the 1990 Order why Bromley was selected as the default local authority in which London-wide property and rights were vested, and Bromley council could not shed light on this when asked by ATG, but, for whatever reason, under the Order Bromley were chosen to safeguard property from all over London.

A Bromley council spokesperson said: "Our position is a matter of public record and it has not changed - we continue in the assertion that the sculpture was vested in Bromley on the dissolution of the GLC for the benefit of all of London. This is a complex matter and we are taking legal advice while continuing our investigations." 

A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson said: "The council still aims to sell the sculpture at the earliest opportunity and will shortly agree a timescale for this with its auctioneers. Following the initial approach from Bromley council regarding ownership there has been no substantiation of the claim of ownership and as a result there is no change in the council's position on the sale."

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