Visitors to Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum
Diego Velazquez, The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus'), 1647-51, National Gallery, Art Funded 1906
Clockwise L-R: A work from the Herschel album by Julia Margaret Cameron, Art Funded 1975; a pistol by Patrick Buchanan, Art Funded 1978; items from the Girona Treasure, Art Funded 1972
Queen Elizabeth II hosts a reception at St James's Palace to celebrate Art Fund's 80th anniversary, 22 June, 1983.
Bill Viola, Nantes Triptych, 1992, Tate, Art Funded 1994
James Turrell, Skyspace in the deer shelter, 2006, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Art Funded 2006

Our story

Since we were founded in 1903, Art Fund has worked to connect museums and people with great art and culture. 

Below you can explore some of the key moments in our history of funding art, engaging audiences and championing the UK’s museums. See some of the major works of art we’ve helped museums to acquire, and learn about how we’ve developed our support for museums over 12 decades.

Everything we do is made possible by our members, who buy the National Art Pass, as well as the support of trusts, foundations, partner funders, and donors. Thank you for making this possible. 

1903 – 1909

A vision of art for all

Prompted by inadequate government funding for museums, in 1903 a group of artists and patrons including Christiana Herringham, DS MacColl and Roger Fry found the National Art Collections Fund.

308 members attend the first general meeting on 11 November 1903 and collectively raise £700 (over £70,000 in today’s money). Within a year, membership figures reach 500, and within the next 10 years, several significant works are acquired by public collections with Art Fund support, including Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, and Holbein’s Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan.
Art Fund is established as an organisation by Royal Charter. Edward VII becomes Art Fund’s Royal Patron.
Total membership figures reach 1,000.
Christiana Jane Powell Herringham
Christiana Herringham, c1885

If we are to influence public opinion we ought only to buy for the nation work that is of its kind first-class

Christiana Herringham; in DS MacColl’s words, ‘the real founder of the Fund’
1910 – 1919

Earning a place in public life

As membership increases, a great artist pays a visit, and museums acknowledge Art Fund members’ support.

Auguste Rodin attends Art Fund’s annual general meeting while visiting London.
In thanks for their support, Art Fund members are admitted free to the National Gallery, Tate Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Wallace Collection.
1920 – 1929

Reaching 10,000 members

A major milestone is reached by the end of the decade.

Art Fund celebrates its 21st birthday. The National Gallery is presented with Tintoretto’s Portrait of Vincenzo Morosini to mark the occasion, and Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald speaks at our annual general meeting.
Art Fund purchases Michelangelo’s study for The Creation of Adam. This important drawing, a study for the reclining figure of Adam in the Sistine Chapel fresco, is given to the British Museum.
Our membership figures reach 10,000.
1930 – 1939

Spreading the word

Art Fund enjoys its first outing on the tube.

The first advertisements for Art Fund’s membership appear on the London Underground, with the slogan ‘All Art Lovers Should Join’.
The Victoria and Albert Museum acquires The Great Bed of Ware. With Art Fund support, this famous piece of giant 16th-century furniture – referenced by Shakespeare, Byron and Dickens, among others – joins the museum’s collection.
A newspaper advertisement for membership of the National Art Collections Fund; a London Underground poster promoting free entry to the National Gallery
A newspaper advertisement for membership of the National Art Collections Fund; a London Underground poster promoting free entry to the National Gallery
©TfL from the London Transport Museum collection
1940 – 1949

Supporting museums in straitened times

When museums reopen their doors following the Second World War, Art Fund support is needed more than ever.

For a time, Art Fund becomes the only source of funding for museum purchases, when government funding for acquisitions ceases.
Rossetti’s Venus Verticordia joins the collection at the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum with Art Fund support.
1950 – 1959

Marking 50 years

Our half-century coincides with a rather special acquisition.

Bristol Museum and Art Gallery receives a bequest of Chinese glass. H Burrows Abbey, director of the Kemptown Breweries, Brighton, bequeaths 290 pieces of Chinese glass – the largest collection outside China – to the museum via Art Fund.
The Victoria and Albert Museum acquires part of the Kelekian collection of Islamic pottery with Art Fund support. Among the most notable items is the Egyptian bowl of the Fatimid dynasty (909-1171), the only work of its type with a Christian subject.

We celebrate our 50th birthday. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother attends Art Fund’s annual general meeting to mark the occasion.

Tate acquires Rodin’s The Kiss with Art Fund support.

1960 – 1969

Bolstering collections across the UK

Great works are secured for the public.

The Walker Art Gallery acquires Rubens’ The Virgin and Child with St Elizabeth and the Infant Baptist with Art Fund support.
‘The Burlington House Cartoon’ by Leonardo da Vinci is saved for the nation. Art Fund spearheads a campaign to save Da Vinci’s only surviving large-scale drawing.
1970 – 1979

Expanding our support

Our funding goes towards an increasing breadth of art and objects, in different forms and from all eras.

Ulster Museum acquires the Girona Treasure – a collection of items recovered from the initial excavation of the Spanish Armada ship La Girona, wrecked in 1588 – with Art Fund support.
Art Fund supports the acquisition of photographic work for the first time. The Herschel album by pioneering 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron joins the National Portrait Gallery collection with Art Fund support.
We launch the ‘Scottish Fund’ to further help museums and galleries in Scotland acquire works of art. This leads to, among others, Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries’ acquisition of an 18th-century all-steel pistol by Glasgow gunsmith Patrick Buchanan in 1978.
1980 – 1989

Our first £500,000 grant

The people-power of our membership enables the purchase of a major work for Manchester.

Manchester Art Gallery acquires The Crucifixion by the Master of Città di Castello. A public appeal and a then-record £500,000 grant given by Art Fund (in celebration of our 80th birthday) help the gallery acquire this 14th-century painting.
Picasso’s Weeping Woman joins the collection at Tate with Art Fund support.
1990 – 1999

Embracing the now

The acquisition of a work by a pioneer of video art signals a commitment to supporting moving-image work.


Art Fund supports the acquisition of video work for the first time. Bill Viola’s Nantes Triptych is acquired by Tate with Art Fund support.

Elsewhere, Canova’s Three Graces is jointly acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery of Scotland with Art Fund support.

Botticelli’s Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child joins the collection at the National Gallery of Scotland with Art Fund support. Art Fund gives £550,000, our largest grant to date at this time.
ARTIST ROOMS - Louise Bourgeois
ARTIST ROOMS - Louise Bourgeois

Art Fund recognises the value of touring and sharing collections as one of the most inclusive and sustainable ways of bringing art to new audiences.

Jenny Waldman, director, Art Fund
2000 – 2009

The age of the free museum

80,000 art lovers are members of Art Fund by the end of our first century, while a campaign for free admission to national museums increases access to art for everyone.

Art Fund supports a successful campaign persuading government to implement the VAT Refund Scheme for national museums and galleries. As a result, national museums and galleries are able to introduce or maintain free admission, which quickly leads to a substantial increase in visitor numbers.

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery acquires Shanti Panchal’s Two Distanced Figures with Art Fund support.

El Anatsui’s Man’s Cloth and Woman’s Cloth joins the collection at the British Museum.


We celebrate our centenary with a nationwide programme of events, including the major exhibition ‘Saved! 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund’ at the Hayward Gallery, curated by Richard Verdi and attended by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The National Gallery of Scotland acquires Titian’s Venus Anadyomene with Art Fund support.

Raphael’s Madonna of the Pinks enters the collection at the National Gallery with Art Fund support.
Cambridge welcomes the Macclesfield Psalter, a remarkable illuminated manuscript, acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum following a public appeal led by Art Fund.
Our first commission is unveiled: James Turrell’s plans for Deer Shelter Skyspace at Yorkshire Sculpture Park are realised with Art Fund support.
Dumfries House is saved for the nation. The house and its heritage contents – including an outstanding collection of 18th-century Scottish furniture – are saved with help from Art Fund and His Majesty The King (then the Prince of Wales). Tate acquires JMW Turner’s The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, following a campaign by Art Fund and Tate.

Art Fund gives a significant grant to ensure that ARTIST ROOMS, a touring collection of modern and contemporary art jointly owned by Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland, is available to museums and galleries across the UK. 40 million people have since visited ARTIST ROOMS exhibitions.

A newspaper article reporting on the successful acquisition by Tate of JMW Turner’s The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842
A newspaper article reporting on the successful acquisition by Tate of JMW Turner’s The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, 1842
2010 – 2019

Powering museum-visiting with the National Art Pass

The transformation of our membership brings National Art Pass benefits to hundreds of museums across the UK, and leads to 150,000 members by the end of 2018.


The Staffordshire Hoard is saved. Following a public campaign, Art Fund helps Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery to acquire the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver artefacts ever found.


Art Fund’s membership is reimagined as the National Art Pass, giving members free access to hundreds of museums across the UK and 50% off exhibitions.

We establish a curatorial traineeship programme in collaboration with the National Gallery to nurture the next generation of curators.


We launch our Jonathan Ruffer curatorial grants, to help curators undertake collections and research projects in the UK and abroad. Yinka Shonibare’s Fourth Plinth sculpture, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, finds a permanent home at the National Maritime Museum with Art Fund support and following a fundraising campaign.

We give £2 million to help the National Gallery, London, and the National Gallery of Scotland jointly acquire Titian’s Diana and Callisto.


Tate acquires Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows with Art Fund support.

The William Morris Gallery wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2013.


We launch the New Collecting Awards, to help curators pursue new avenues of collecting for their museums; we also launch Art Happens, our free crowdfunding platform for museums.

The Wedgwood Collection is saved from being divided up and sold following the fastest fundraising campaign in Art Fund’s history, and Van Dyck’s final self-portrait joins the collection at the National Portrait Gallery with Art Fund support.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park wins Art Fund Museum of Year 2014.


We launch the Moving Image Fund to help museums acquire film and video work, leading to the acquisition of many significant works by international artists.

The Whitworth wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2015.


One of the historic Armada portraits is saved for the nation. Art Fund helps Royal Museums Greenwich to acquire the most famous depiction of Queen Elizabeth I in existence.

The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016.


We launch the Student Art Pass, a significantly discounted version of the National Art Pass for full-time UK university students.

The Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund opens, providing funding for museums and galleries around the UK to borrow works from national collections, and we develop Art Tickets, our free ticketing system for museums.

The Hepworth Wakefield wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017.


Our membership figures reach 150,000.

The National Gallery acquires Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria with Art Fund support.

Tate St Ives wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018.


We introduce the National Art Pass for Under 30s, aiming to increase access to art and culture for a wider audience.

The first recipients of the Headley Fellowships with Art Fund are announced; the programme supports curators to further develop specialist knowledge relating to the collections in their care.

St Fagans National Museum of History wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2019.

Grayson Perry helps to launch the National Art Pass, 2011
Grayson Perry helps to launch the National Art Pass, 2011

For 120 years Art Fund has been a vital force for good in the cultural ecology. Benefitting everyone who loves art and material culture; museums, visitors and artists.

Grayson Perry
2020 – PRESENT

Connecting museums, people and art

As museums recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and look to the future, we commit to the three pillars of our vision: funding art, engaging audiences, and championing the UK’s museums.


Prospect Cottage is saved. In just 10 weeks, thousands of people respond to Art Fund’s major appeal to raise £3.5 million to secure the future of Derek Jarman’s iconic home.

In response to Covid-19, we launch a new funding programme, Respond and Reimagine, to help museums through the pandemic.

The five finalists for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2020 – Aberdeen Art Gallery, Gairloch Museum, the Science Museum, South London Gallery and Towner Eastbourne – are announced as joint winners, in recognition of the challenges museums are facing.


Our crowdfunding campaign Together for Museums raises £1 million to help museums respond to the pandemic. More than 4,500 people donate, and leading artists contribute artworks as rewards for donations.

The National Gallery acquires Thomas Lawrence’s ‘The Red Boy’; the Armada Maps join the collection at the National Museum of the Royal Navy; and Veronica Ryan’s sculpture honouring the Windrush generation, the first of two major works created for the Hackney Windrush Art Commissions, is unveiled.

Firstsite wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2021.


Our Energise Young Minds campaign enables us to commit to spending £1 million on museum projects that inspire young people.

Thomas J Price’s sculpture Warm Shores, the second of two major works created for the Hackney Windrush Art Commissions, is unveiled.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2022.


Over 500 museums come together for The Wild Escape, a major project led by Art Fund engaging primary school children with UK wildlife in museum collections. We give £2.5 million, the largest grant in our history, to help save Joshua Reynolds’ Mai (Omai) from private ownership in a landmark joint acquisition between the National Portrait Gallery and the Getty, LA.

We launch the Teacher Art Pass, to help teachers use museums more in their practice and spark creativity in the classroom.

The Burrell Collection wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2023, as we celebrate 10 years of Art Fund Museum of the Year.

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