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Record numbers join the United Kingdom's Art Fund to boost support for struggling museums
Anna (Anna Wintour), 2009 by Alex Katz. ©Alex Katz, DACS, London/VAGA, New York 2011 purchased with help from the Art Fund.

LONDON.- Membership of the UK’s national fundraising charity, the Art Fund, has increased by 15% in 2011 to just fewer than 90,000 members, thanks to the enormous success of the launch of the National Art Pass in April this year. The National Art Pass gives membership of the Art Fund, and a wide range of discounts and free admission across the UK’s art venues. Sales of the Pass go directly towards the work of the Art Fund, which helps museums to buy and share great art.

The Art Fund has been particularly active in supporting acquisitions of contemporary art, offering 71 grants for work made since 1965, more than ever before in its history. Works of art by Sir Peter Blake, Ai Weiwei, 2011 Turner Prize-nominee George Shaw, Jake and Dinos Chapman and Eva Rothschild have all joined the nation’s collections, in museums across the United Kingdom.

2011 also saw the launch of RENEW, in conjunction with the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, giving six museums across the country the opportunity to establish wholly new directions in their art collecting, especially in the international field. The Art Fund has also recently launched its first ever fundraising campaign to help a museum to buy a work of contemporary art. In just four weeks, the campaign to find a permanent home for Yinka Shonibare, MBE’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle when it comes down from Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in January, has raised over £50,000 towards its target of £362,500.

Art Fund Director Stephen Deuchar said: “At a time when Britain’s museums are facing cuts of at least 15%, our success with the National Art Pass in bringing a 15% growth in membership this year has shown that the public’s appetite for great art remains undiminished. The benefits of the National Art Pass clearly make sense to any art enthusiast seeking a saving. But it's also allowing us to give vital support to the museums themselves at this especially tough time".

In 2011, the Art Fund supported or pledged to support the acquisition of almost 150 works of art by museums and galleries in the UK, committing over £4.4 million. Highlights of Art Fund-supported acquisitions include:

• The Nimrud Ivories, acquired by the British Museum
Excavated in the 1940s and 1950s by Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband Sir Max Mallowan, this collection of almost 1,000 exquisite carved ivories and figures dating from the 9th to 7th centuries BC are essential to the study of Assyrian civilization.

• The Frome Hoard, acquired by the Museum of Somerset
This is the largest hoard of Roman coins ever to have been found in a single container. It is also the second largest Roman coin hoard ever found, with 52,503 coins weighing 160kg.

• Marcantonio Bassetti’s The Dead Christ supported by the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene, acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
This gloomily haunting work is an extremely rare intact example of Veronese oil on slate painting. Its gleaming surface and highly unusual composition together made it one of the most extraordinary Baroque paintings to become available in years.

• Edward Ardizzone’s illustrations for Graham Greene’s The Little Train, acquired by Seven Stories
This complete suite of watercolour illustrations by one of Britain’s best-loved illustrators was created for one of only four picture books for children written by Graham Greene, and was acquired by the nation’s museum for children’s stories, based in Newcastle.

• Alex Katz’s Anna Wintour, acquired by the National Portrait Gallery
Perhaps the last great pop artist working today, Alex Katz has been at the very forefront of painting since he began exhibiting in the 1950s. This 2009 portrait of American Vogue’s famously formidable Editor-in-Chief captures both the seriousness of the sitter, and a softer side that is less associated Wintour. The image is currently the bestselling postcard produced by the National Gallery.

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