A row has broken out after several paintings depicting nudity had to be taken down from a public exhibition at Harrow Arts Centre.

The bosses at the centre demanded that five paintings showing naked bodies were removed from the walls over fears they could offend people.

However, artists have hit out at the decision, which was taken the night before the annual autumn exhibition opened on Monday, October 13.

Cheryl Gould, who had to remove one of her paintings which showed male genitalia, is angry at the decision.

She said: “It’s absolute nonsense.

“This sort of work is part of our culture and heritage, there is nothing that is overtly sexual in any way.”

She and fellow artist Jonathan Hutchins were called on Sunday to the arts centre, in Uxbridge Road, by members of Harrow Arts Society, who had been instructed by council officers to remove the ‘explicit’ paintings.

Mr Hutchins decided to replace his paintings in the exhibition, but Ms Gould and her partner Roy Rogers, a former president of the art society who was also exhibiting, have pulled out in protest.

In a letter to the council officer who made the decision, Mr Hutchins said: “If all slightly difficult or controversial art, drama, is denied from any public forum it will play into the hands of some very sinister forces indeed.

“I know that you would not be in favour of removing Piccadilly’s Eros or Florence’s David to museums so that they are not in public.

“It begs the question why the people of Harrow who visit an art centre are to be protected to such a degree.”

The decision was taken because the arts centre is a public building, not exclusively an art gallery, and there were fears children and religious groups would be offended.

Councillor Chris Mote, who has ultimate responsibility for the arts centre, backed the decision taken by his staff.

He said: “I don’t want to take the risk of offending some groups.

“It may be artists feel I’m being unfair, but I’m not. I am trying to be fair and equal to everyone.”

The issue of nude paintings in the arts centre has caused controversy before, with complaints about an exhibition held last year.

The council and artists alike want a dedicated art gallery to be built in the borough because the problem of censorship at the arts centre, one of the last places left in the borough to display art work, would not exist if an art gallery was built.

Cllr Mote did not dismiss the idea, but said he could not commit to anything in the current financial situation.