diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Last week Old Flo returned to Tower Hamlets.

Old Flo is in fact Draped Seated Woman, a bronze sculpture created by Henry Moore in 1957. London County Council purchased her direct from the artist in 1962, at a cost of £7000, with the intention that she take up a prominent position on the Stifford Estate in Stepney. Old Flo was positioned close to one of three new 17-storey tower blocks, enhancing the neighbourhood through art, at least for those residents who liked her modern profile. And here she remained until 1997 when the estate was to be entirely redeveloped, at which point Old Flo was shipped out of the borough to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The story then jumps to 2012, when the Mayor of Tower Hamlets decided to sell off Old Flo at Christie's to raise funds for the cash-strapped council. But his decision was promptly questioned in the courts, with arguments hingeing around which body gained custody of the statue when the LCC was wound up in 1965. By the time ownership had finally been settled Lutfur Rahman had been discredited as Mayor, and the intended sale thankfully never took place. Incoming Mayor John Biggs then decided to bring Old Flo back, but to Canary Wharf where her security could be assured.

She's now in Cabot Square, a raised piazza with a plush fountain and several other modern sculptures to boot, including a similarly robust bronze of an odd-headed couple by Lynn Chadwick. Old Flo looks very much at home, and you can see her here at any time. But what you may not have known is that you could have seen her elsewhere in London for several years before she came back from Yorkshire if you'd known where to look. Here she is, and here she has been, over in Pimlico.

Henry Moore made a total of seven casts of Draped Seated Woman across the period 1958–63. He gave his own personal copy to his daughter, who sold it to a private collector, who in 1989 lent it to the Tate on long term loan. It's currently on display in the Henry Moore Room at Tate Britain, alongside other sculptural classics like Recumbent Figure and Family Group. Four of the other casts are in museums in Melbourne, Jerusalem, Brussels and Connecticut, and the other can be seen outside a public swimming pool at Wuppertal in Germany.

Meanwhile, back in Stepney, no public art is on show. The Stifford Estate was rebuilt at the start of the century in typically Tower Hamlets style - partly flats but mostly three-storey townhouses, back when these were still deemed to be a good use of land. It's not a well-off corner of town but by no means shabby, and home to many a family from the squeezed middle and below. Rows of cars now fill the front gardens of Ewhurst Close, the cul-de-sac on the land where Old Flo once sat, with small private gardens out back leaving no communal space for anything in bronze.

In happier times Old Flo might have been resited to Stepney Green Park, the large grassy expanse immediately adjacent to the former estate, where the local population might once again have enjoyed seeing her, sitting on her and probably jumping off her too. But leaving expensive chunks of metal unguarded in public places is now deemed far too risky, hence Old Flo's move to a bankers' piazza watched over by 24-hour security and CCTV. Henry Moore would have been disappointed by his sculpture's upmarket shift, but at least she's back in the borough where we can all make her acquaintance once again.

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