Our history

The Art Fund has helped museums and galleries buy great works of art since 1903.

Through sales of the National Art Pass, corporate members and the support of trusts and foundations the Art Fund has ensured museums across the UK are able to display great art for everyone to enjoy. Take a look at some of our highlights below.

2010 to present

  • 2015: The Art Fund launches the Moving Image Fund for Museums to help museums and galleries acquire moving-image works. The Whitworth is crowned Museum of the Year. The Wedgwood Museum reopens following 2014’s fundraising campaign to save the Wedgwood Collection.​
  • 2014: The Art Fund moves from Millais House to Granary Square, King's Cross. Its fundraising campaign to help the National Portrait Gallery buy Van Dyck's final self-portrait is a success – raising £1.44m from public donations alone. The Wedgwood Collection is saved through a £15.75m fundraising campaignYorkshire Sculpture Park wins Museum of the Year. The Art Fund launches Art Happens, a new curated crowdfunding platform, and the New Collecting Awards for curators.
  • 2013: Walthamstow's William Morris Gallery wins the Art Fund Prize and is named Museum of the Year. Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, one of Constable's celebrated 'six-footers', is bought for Tate thanks to a £1m Art Fund grant.
  • 2012: The Art Fund gives £2m – its largest grant to date – towards the purchase of Titian's Diana and Callisto by the National Gallery and National Galleries Scotland. Yinka Shonibare MBE's Ship in a Bottle is acquired by the National Maritime Museum following a successful fundraising campaign. The Art Fund supports Rachel Whiteread's first permanent public UK commission, a frieze for the Whitechapel Gallery facade.
  • 2011: Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Procession to Calvary acquired by Nostell Priory following a national fundraising campaign. Art Fund Prize awarded to British Museum for its 'History of the World' project. Art Fund membership is relaunched as the National Art Pass.
  • 2010: Successful campaigns to save the £3.3m Staffordshire Hoard for Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent. Antony Gormley’s 6 Times is unveiled in Edinburgh, thanks to a £150,000 Art Fund grant. The Ulster Museum wins the £100,000 Art Fund Prize.

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2000-2009

  • 2008: The Art Fund Prize awarded to the Lightbox museum and gallery in Woking. The Art Fund gives £600,000 to Tate’s campaign to save Rubens’s Banqueting House sketch. The Art Fund gives an exceptional grant of £1 million towards the acquisition of Artist Rooms, Anthony D’Offay’s collection of international modern and contemporary works.
  • 2008-2009: Regional tours of Artist Rooms sponsored by the Art Fund begin.
  • 2007: Successful campaigns to save The Blue Rigi by Turner and Dumfries House
  • 2006: The Art Fund unveils its first major commission – a permanent installation at Yorkshire Sculpture Park by renowned American artist James Turrell, entitled The Deer Shelter.
  • 2005: Sir Joshua Reynolds’s double portrait Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney: The Archers is saved from export by Tate with the help of a grant of £400,000 from the Art Fund.
  • 2005: Following a successful fundraising appeal, and a pledge of £500,000 from the Art Fund, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, successfully acquires the Macclesfield Psalter with additional help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Friends of the Fitzwilliam, and £180,000 in donations.
  • 2004: The Art Fund launches a public appeal on BBC television’s The Culture Show to save the Macclesfield Psalter from export to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
  • 2004: The Art Fund gives £400,000 towards Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks, secured by the National Gallery after a hard-fought campaign and a public appeal.
  • 2003: Titian’s Venus Anadyomene acquired by the National Gallery of Scotland with an Art Fund grant of £500,000.
  • 2003: The Art Fund helps secure the future of the Royal Photographic Society’s collection of over 270,000 photographs, acquired for the NMPFT, Bradford.
  • 2003: The Art Fund celebrates its centenary with a nationwide programme of events including an exhibition Saved! 100 years of the National Art Collections Fund at the Hayward Gallery, London.
  • 2001: The Art Fund’s VAT campaign is successful, enabling all national museums and galleries to introduce free admission.
  • 2000: Brenda Knapp bequeathes a portfolio of shares and property worth over £5m to the Art Fund.

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1990-1999

  • 1999: The Art Fund gives £550,000 – its largest grant to date – to the National Gallery of Scotland for Botticelli’s Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child.
  • 1997: The Art Fund launches a campaign to maintain free admission at all non-charging national museums and galleries.
  • 1994: The Art Fund moves into Millais House, South Kensington, its new freehold headquarters.
  • 1994: The Art Fund contributes £500,000 to help the V&A and the National Gallery of Scotland jointly purchase Canova’s Three Graces.
  • 1994: Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych bought by the Tate Gallery, the first acquisition of a video work to have Art Fund support.
  • 1993: Heritage Lottery Fund established.

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1980-1989

  • 1989: The Art Fund launches its Modern Art Fund with the exhibition Monet to Freud at Sotheby’s, London.
  • 1988: Picasso’s Weeping Woman is acquired by Tate with the assistance of the Art Fund.
  • 1986: The Art Fund receives 33 legacies, a record number for a single year.
  • 1985: The Crucifixion, attributed to Duccio, is acquired by Manchester City Art Gallery after a public appeal launched by the Art Fund and a grant of £500,000 (in celebration of the Art Fund’s 80th birthday), the largest sum given to date.
  • 1980: The National Heritage Memorial Fund is established.

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1970-1979

  • 1978: The Silchester collection of Roman antiquities is acquired for Reading Museum.
  • 1977: The Art Fund’s Scottish Fund is launched to acquire works of art for Scottish galleries and museums.
  • 1975: The National Portrait Gallery buys Julia Margaret Cameron’s Herschel album, the first important photographic work acquired with an Art Fund grant.
  • 1972: The Girona Treasure (items recovered from the initial excavation of the Spanish galleas Girona, wrecked in 1588) bought by the Ulster Museum with the Art Fund’s assistance.
  • 1972: The Art Fund gives its largest grant to date, £100,000, to help the National Gallery acquire Titian’s Death of Actaeon.

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1960-1969

  • 1962: The Art Fund organises a successful campaign to save Leonardo’s Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist (‘The Leonardo Cartoon’), raising £450,000. Nearly a million people come to see the Cartoon during the months when it is shown in the National Gallery.
  • 1960: The Art Fund helps the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, to buy Rubens’ Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the Infant Baptist – the first municipal museum or art gallery to receive a government special purchase grant.

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1950-1959

  • 1955: Ernest Edward Cook bequeaths over 150 pictures, plus furniture, silver and ceramics – the most important bequest ever left to the Art Fund.
  • 1953: The Art Fund’s 50th anniversary; Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, attends the AGM.
  • 1953: Rodin’s Kiss acquired by the Tate Gallery with the Art Fund’s assistance.
  • 1952: The Art Fund helps the Victoria & Albert Museum acquire 15 pieces from the Kelekian collection of Islamic pottery.
  • 1950: H Burrows Abbey, Director of the Kemptown Breweries, Brighton, bequeaths 290 pieces of Chinese glass through the Art Fund – the largest collection outside China – to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

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1940-1949

  • 1949: The Manuk and Coles collection of Indian art is bequeathed through the Art Fund to four museums for them to make their own selections from 1,400 works, the remainder to be sold (raising over £5,000 for the Art Fund).
  • 1946: Most of the museums and galleries closed during the war are re-opened.
  • 1945: The Art Fund assists the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth to acquire Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia.
  • 1940: The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks of ‘the very special need for the work of the National Art Collections Fund during wartime’.
  • 1940: Government allocations for acquisitions cease and the Art Fund becomes one of the only sources of funding for museum purchases.

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1930-1939

  • 1935: George Eumorfopoulos’s collection of oriental art is acquired jointly by the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum with the assistance of the Art Fund.
  • 1933: The Art Fund begins to support the acquisition of African art.
  • 1931: The Great Bed of Ware is acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum through an appeal and with Art Fund help.
  • 1930: The first Art Fund advertisements appear in the London Underground with the slogan ‘All Art Lovers Should Join’.

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1920-1929

  • 1929: With the Art Fund’s help, the Wilton Diptych and Titian’s Vendramin Family are bought by the National Gallery, and the Luttrell Psalter is bought by the British Museum.
  • 1927: Art Fund membership increases by 2,000, bringing the total to 6,674.
  • 1926: The Art Fund puchases Michelangelo’s Study for the Creation of Adam and presents it to the British Museum.
  • 1924: The Art Fund’s 21st birthday; to celebrate, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald speaks at the AGM and Tintoretto’s Portrait of Vincenzo Morosini is presented to the National Gallery to mark its centenary.
  • 1922: Membership is at 3,028, almost twice that of 1914.

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1910-1919

  • 1919: Members of the Art Fund are admitted free to the National Gallery, Tate Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Wallace Collection on paying days.
  • 1917: The Art Fund receives its first legacy.
  • 1914: With the outbreak of the First World War, museums and galleries in London close.
  • 1914: Velázquez's Rokeby Venus is slashed by suffragette Mary Richardson in protest at the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst.
  • 1913: Auguste Rodin visits London to establish a location for his Burghers of Calais (which had been bought by the Art Fund) and attends the 10th AGM.
  • 1911: The Art Fund presents the Meroë Head of Augustus to the British Museum.

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1903-1909

  • 1909: Holbein’s Christina of Denmark is purchased by the Art Fund for £72,000 after a dramatic public appeal and presented to the National Gallery.
  • 1906: Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus is bought by the Art Fund following a public campaign and presented to the National Gallery. As a result, King Edward VII becomes the first royal patron of the charity.
  • 1905: Whistler’s Nocturne in Blue and Gold (Old Battersea Bridge) is presented to the National Gallery of British Art (now Tate) following the Art Fund’s first public appeal.
  • 1903: The National Art Collections Fund is founded by a group of artists and patrons, including Christiana Herringham, DS MacColl and Roger Fry – prompted by the government's inadequate museum funding. By its first meeting it has 308 members and £700 in funds.

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