Art Fund UK celebrates its 120th Anniversary

Wednesday, November 8, 2023
Art Fund UK celebrates its 120th Anniversary

Art Fund is celebrating 120 years of funding art and championing museums and galleries across the UK.

During that time, Art Fund has helped bring hundreds of thousands of objects and works of art into public collections, including Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage.

Art Fund was established on 11 November 1903 to support museums and galleries to acquire great art for the enjoyment of everyone. Today it works with a network of 850 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK, helping them to acquire and share works of art, connect with their communities and inspire the next generation.

Art Fund is an independent membership organisation, powered by people. Since its founding, membership has grown from 500 to a thriving community of over 135,000 National Art Pass members across a range of membership types – including Art Passes for students, teachers and under-30s, as well as options for those with accompanying friends or children. It is thanks to these members, as well as the support of trusts, foundations and donors, that Art Fund’s charitable work is made possible.

It means the charity is able to raise millions of pounds each year to fund art, helping the UK’s museums to enrich their collections; to build audiences, with the National Art Pass opening doors to great culture for everyone; and to champion museums, through the annual Museum of the Year award – the world’s largest museums prize – and creative events that bring the UK’s museums together.

Children and artists parade their artworks inspired by Matisse’s The Snail at Tate Modern as part of The Wild Escape, a major project led by Art Fund to being museums and younger audiences together in 2023
© Art Fund / Hydar Dewachi

Over its 120-year history, Art Fund has worked tirelessly to connect museums and people with great art and culture. There have been many memorable moments, including:

  • 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. 

  • 1906: Art Fund is established as an organisation by Royal Charter as King Edward VII becomes Art Fund’s royal patron, and Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus is purchased by Art Fund, following a public campaign, and presented to the National Gallery, London.  

  • 1919: Art Fund members are granted free admission to galleries. Art Fund’s members are admitted free entry to the National Gallery, Tate Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and Wallace Collection in thanks for their support. 

  • 1953: HRH The Queen becomes Art Fund royal patron, and Tate acquires Rodin’s The Kiss. This important marble sculpture, made in 1901-4, joins the Tate’s collection of modern art with Art Fund support.  

  • 1972: The Ulster Museum, Belfast, acquires the Girona Treasure. Items recovered from the initial excavation of the Spanish Armada ship La Girona, wrecked in 1588, join the Ulster Museum’s collection with Art Fund support.  

  • 1975: Art Fund supports the acquisition of photographic work for the first time, as the Herschel album by pioneering 19th-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron joins the National Portrait Gallery's collection. 

  • 1999: The National Gallery of Scotland acquires Botticelli’s Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child. Art Fund gives £550,000 to help Scotland’s National Gallery acquire this Botticelli masterpiece, created around 1485.  

  • 2012: The National Maritime Museum, London, acquires Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle by Yinka Shonibare. This contemporary gem, a sculpture commissioned for the Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square and unveiled in 2010, is acquired by the National Maritime Museum following a successful Art Fund fundraising campaign.

  • 2014: The Wedgwood Collection is saved following the fastest fundraising campaign in Art Fund’s history. The 31-day campaign raised £15.75m to ensure the Wedgwood Collection was not broken up and disbanded, through a gift to the V&A which allowed the Collection to remain on display in Barlaston, Stoke.  

  • 2018: The National Gallery acquires a rare self-portrait, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Artemisia Gentileschi, the most celebrated female artist of the Italian Baroque, with support from Art Fund.

  • 2020: Art Fund’s major appeal to save artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage for the nation reaches its £3.5m target. Creative Folkestone now take care of the iconic home, the interior of which is made available to the public for the first time.  

  • 2021: Art Fund supports Hackney Windrush Art Commissions. Veronica Ryan’s Custard Apple (Annonaceae), Breadfruit (Moraceae) and Soursop (Annonaceae) – the first permanent public sculpture by a black female artist in the UK – is unveiled in Hackney.

  • 2023: Art Fund gives the latest grant in its history, £2.5m, to help save Joshua Reynolds’ Mai (Omai) from private ownership in a landmark joint acquisition between the National Portrait Gallery and the Getty, LA. The Wild Escape is launched. With the participation of hundreds of museums and thousands of children, this major project celebrates UK wildlife and brings young audiences to UK museums. 

Main Image :Diego Velazquez, The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus'), 1647-51, National Gallery, Art Funded 1906 © National Gallery, London


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Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.

Anna Melnykova, "Palace of Labor (palats praci), architector I. Pretro, 1916", shot with analog Canon camera, 35 mm Fuji film in March 2022.


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