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Is This Moore Being Sold On A False Premise?

I’m back from a trip to the UK — where I saw much that I hope to write about, some here — and one sad story I learned of while there concerns the east London town of Tower Hamlets, which has voted to sell off a Henry Moore sculpture, Draped Seated Woman. The town, quite poor, is facing budget cuts and wants to use the proceeds to make up the cuts. Christie’s got the consignment and will sell the work in February.

The town council is expecting to raise some $30 million from it, but as The Telegraph points out, the expectation may be built on a lack of understanding of the art market. The “comparable” example that whetted the town’s appetite occurred last February for about that amount, but “the estimate on that sculpture was only 3.5 million to 4.5 million pounds, and the eventual sale was driven by competition between two bidders, the winner being a dealer who represents Russian collectors. If that collector was not bidding, it would have sold for less than half the eventual price, and they[sic], presumably, are now out of the equation.”

Furthermore, the Telegraph notes, the previous comparable, a sculpture called Draped Reclining Woman, fetched the equivalent of about $6 to $7 million in 2008.

It’s reasonable to question whether the town council would sell the piece for that price — which is not enough to cover it projected lost funds.

Moore sold his piece to the city for a price below market value in the 1960s. Artists, Moore’s daughter, Sir Nicholas Serota and other have protested the sale, but to no avail. Part of the problem, however, may be that the work has been on loan to the Yorkshire Scultpure Park, not on view in Tower Hamlets. According to the BBC, “the sculpture was moved after the Tower Hamlets housing estate in which it was housed was demolished in the late 1990s.”

Sadly, this is not a separate case. As previous Telegraph article related:

The sculpture is the latest in a burgeoning list of sales of public artworks by councils. Last year, Bolton Council sold seven works of art, including a painting by John Everett Millais, while Newcastle City Council put £270,000 of publicly funded artwork for sale on eBay, and Gloucester city council approved plans to sell 14 works of art valued at £381,000.

But I wonder if these public sales are built on false hopes.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Press Association via The Telegraph


  1. Thanks for visiting us! The Moore story is interesting of course but it does need to be taken into account that the artwork (sold by Moore at a below-market rate to London County Council, not directly to the borough of Tower Hamlets) hasn’t been in London for ages and that Tower Hamlets is extremely badly off ($150m debts are claimed) and it’s thus one of the many British locations where libraries, creches, parks, and all sorts of services are closing or under threat. If they can raise £20m / $30m (which they won’t) you can see why they’d be tempted. Danny Boyle, (the film director), who lives in the borough said it was a shame to sell it as “The value of art is diminished by being monetarised,”….er, Danny, art has always been thus. The true sadness is that even if the borough earnt $30m, somehow I think it would just keep too many local government managers employed at over-inflated salaries….

  2. I don’t know the situation over in that area but I guess it must be so bad to even think of selling a masterpiece that has been in that area for so long. I don’t like the thought of selling it but if it is for the good of the community then so be it as long as there be proper allocation of the budget and accounting of the expenses ti maximize the funds.

  3. A growing number of folks are pointing out that fiduciary responsibilities can and do conflict with AAMD strictures regarding deaccessions:

    … and you’ve got to wonder if these town councils ever even formally accessioned these artworks into their collections! Seriously, whatever money these artworks bring in is destined for fiduciary duties, so town councils may have no choice in selling these assets… except, perhaps, in using art finance innovations that can let them have their Moore and money too.

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