One of London's most deprived boroughs decided to sell a Henry Moore sculpture valued at up to £20 million (HK$248 million) to ease its debts, despite pressure from the art establishment to hold on to the imposing bronze work.
Tower Hamlets says nearly half the children in the area live in poverty, the highest level in Britain, and that the council needs to find £100 million in savings over the next three years to meet government budget targets.
Mayor Lutfur Rahman defended what he called a "tough decision" to sell the 1957 sculpture titled "Draped seated woman" and affectionately known by locals as "Old Flo".
In fact, the work has not been on display in the area for more than a decade, having been loaned to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in northern England following the demolition of the Stifford housing estate in Stepney Green where it once stood.
"It is with considerable regret that I make this decision but I have a duty to ensure residents do not suffer the brunt of the horrendous cuts being imposed on us," Rahman said after a council cabinet meeting.
Councillor Rania Khan pointed out that other local authorities had sold works of art to pay for services, but the Moore sculpture is probably the most high-profile case in recent years.
The ruling is likely to dismay leading figures in the art world, who had urged Tower Hamlets to rethink proposals to sell the "family silver" for short-term financial gain.
"The value of art is diminished by being monetarised," Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle said on Monday.
"The Moore sculpture defies all prejudice in people's minds about one of London's poorest boroughs. That alone makes it priceless to every resident."
Moore, the son of a miner with left-wing views, sold the work in the 1960s for below its market value on the understanding that it should be put on public display for Londoners to enjoy.