The Artists General and Benevolent Society (AGBI)


The AGBI was founded in 1814 by members of the Royal Academy of Arts including J.M.W. Turner, John Constable and John Soane and was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1842. It is one of the oldest charities in the United Kingdom.

The Pastel Society has been a longstanding supporter of the AGBI, which supports professional artists in need who cannot work due to accident, illness or older age. Founded in 1814 and one of the UK’s oldest charities, the AGBI has recently moved into wonderful new premises in London’s Pimlico, which PS AGBI Steward Christine Watson recently visited.

Christine, who continues as our AGBI steward for a second year, attended an ‘Afternoon Tea’ which not only celebrated the completion of the new premises but gave stewards from fellow art societies the opportunity to meet and exchange fundraising ideas.

The new building opens up exciting possibilities for the AGBI and its programming. There is now capacity to offer more than simply grants and the team is expanding the ways in which it can support artists in need. The building offers space for one-on-one counselling and consultations for applicants, an exhibitions programme that supports the purpose of the AGBI, and an event space to build community and support among artists as peers.

The current display includes letters written by former stewards to their members asking for donations. It was agreed that, without access to today’s technology which is not doubt faster and more efficient, the handwritten letters from past stewards were far more creative and visually engaging. Included are examples by Elizabeth Frink, Paul Wyeth and a delightful unattributed letter which brilliantly describes the perils that might affect an artist at work.

The fascinating inaugural exhibition featured work by artist and founder of ‘The Stone Museum’, Lizzie Kendal, while October’s exhibition will include work by sculptor and AGBI President Nicola Hicks and portrait artist Jaimie Routley. The AGBI plans to hold artists’ talks to accompany all its exhibitions.

A sumptuous tea was served at the round table where the AGBI team updated stewards on the relocation to the new building, which comprises an open ground floor exhibition space, meeting rooms stunningly converted from a series of below-ground cellars, and a lettable flat above.

The AGBI was keen to emphasise that their support is always offered with compassion and confidentiality. In addition to helping artists directly, its Childrens Fund supports their children as well as young people who are in full-time education up to the age of 25 who have lost the support of one or both parents.