Saved for the Nation : The Amazing Art Fund, with Anthony Pugh-Thomas

The truly amazing Art Fund. Many of us have little idea of the activities of this brilliant independent art charity


For more than a century the Art Fund has hugely enriched the museums and galleries of our country, securing nearly a million works of art entirely funded from public donations and its 80,000 members.

From Hepworth to Leonardo, from Picasso to Durer, from ancient, sacrificial bowls to installatons and video art, the Art Fund offers grants to secure, acquire and display paintings, sculptures, photographs and every possible sort of art, in galleries and museums all over the UK, and lobbies on their behalf and that of their users. It’s a constant battle: scarcely has one campaign finished than another is needed. Many of these campaigns have hit the headlines and captured the imagination of the public. Some have been extremely contentious: in 2005 the Fund was caught up in the controversy surrounding the purchase by the Tate gallery of [The Upper Room by Chris Ofili (see below). And then, in 2006, it was caught out when it was discovered that the Amarna Princess, purportedly an ancient Egyptian sculpture, was actually a forgery by Shaun Greenhalgh

But since its foundation in 1903 the Fund has been involved in the acquisition of many of the most famous objects in British public collections, such as Velázquez's Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery, Picasso's Weeping Woman in the Tate collection, the Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The wonderful Hoard, a collection of over 3,500 gold and silver artefacts, the largest treasure of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found, was in real danger of disappearing abroad or in to some private collection, so a vigorous & popular campaign by the Fund helped raise the £3.3 million to secure the treasure.

And in 2010 The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, which had been hung in Wakefield's Nostell Priory for over 200 years, came under risk of being sold on the open market. The Art Fund worked with the National Trust to raise the £2.7 million required to purchase the painting for the National Trust's art collection.


Anthony Pugh-Thomas

Anthony has had a long and distinguished legal career, pursuing villains and fraudsters across the globe. He has been Chairman of the City of London Law Society, Treasurer of Justice, and the holder of many honours and posts. But all the while, under cover of darkness, since the days of his youth, whilst quietly unravelling subtle cases of the law, he has been a passionate advocate for our national treasures, great and small. His alter ego has rushed far and wide, discovering, restoring, saving precious examples of our material culture threatened by greed, by improvement or neglect...

As a young man Anthony was The Champion of Albert Bridge, was honorary solicitor for the Georgian Group, and Chairman of the Fountain Society. He has been not only a long term & extremely active member of the Art Fund, but also of the National Trust, English Heritage, the Historic Houses Association.

He is particularly fond of smaller and less known societies. Having led a campaign to ensure that dry London Fountains spouted again he rushed off to Mount Athos, clearing paths between monasteries (Friends of Mount Athos), helped in the restoration of the Darnley and the Hope Mausoleums ( Mausoleum Trust), is a great Friend of Friendless Churches, a Friend of Somerset Churches and a Friend of Blue. He hopes to become a member of the Dance of Death Society.

He lives in Somerset (Somerset Committee of the Art Fund, Chairman of the Somerset Gardens Trust) and, surprisingly un-exhausted by all this activity, lives in a Georgian Rectory which he has repaired, of course, to the best SPAB standards.

2013Martin Keeley