History of the British Sporting Art Trust

The British Sporting Art Trust was established in 1977 to promote interest in sporting art and to build a representative collection for public exhibition.

The foundation of the Trust was a response to concerns that sporting art was not fully represented in public art collections and that many fine paintings were going to America.

British sporting art reflects the sporting interests and taste of British society through the centuries. In the twentieth century there were many calls to establish a permanent display of sporting art.  In the late 1940s Walter Hutchinson opened The National Gallery of British Sports and Pastimes but financial troubles led to its quick demise and the collection was sold in 1951. Concern rose again in the 1960's. James Seymour's A Kill at Ashdown Park was sold at Christie’s in 1968 for £58,000 to go overseas, a record at that time for the artist. Only five other paintings by British artists had ever received higher prices. Fortunately it was listed as a work of "National Importance" and was bought by the Tate Gallery for the nation.  

The high prices achieved at auction showed the interest in British sporting art amongst foreign buyers and the gaps in the national collections. Paul Mellon, the American collector, exhibited his collection at the Royal Academy in 1964-5 and highlighted the popularity of the genre. As the London art dealer Geoffrey Agnew said: “It took an American collector to make the English look again at their own paintings.” In 1974 an exhibition organised by the Arts Council British Sporting Paintings 1650-1850 illustrated the richness of the sporting art in private collections and demonstrated the failure of public institutions to acquire outstanding sporting pictures.

Three years later in 1977 the British Sporting Art Trust was established. Paul Mellon donated 30 works through the BSAT to the Tate Gallery in 1979. A further 17 works were donated by Mrs Ambrose Clark in 1982.

In 1986 the BSAT opened The Vestey Gallery in the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.  This enabled the Trust to organise exhibitions and show its collection.

The Trust collection has continued to grow.  It now owns a significant collection of paintings and sporting prints. A collection of over 2,000 books and an extensive archive are also available to students and researchers. The Trust will now be able to display the very best sporting art from the Tate, its own collection and other public and private collections in the Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of British Sporting Art as part of the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art. 

Since its foundation the BSAT has supported research into sporting art. To date it has produced over 60 essays covering a wide spectrum of subjects. The move to Palace House will enable it to enhance its commitment to research, education and promotion of the genre.

More information about the BSAT, its work, its collection, library and archive can be found on the BSAT website.