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Up until the mid-twentieth century, the main method of collecting was by portrait commission, and donation or bequest. Paintings and sculptures of this era mainly represent figures that were active in, or inspirational to, the University’s development. The portraits are important as a commemoration of these people and their achievements, and, equally, they form a record of Irish and international painting, taste, and political attitudes. Significant donations, bequests, and funded acquisitions include the Madden, Gilbert, and Webb bequests; George Dawson’s many donations and final bequest; the acquisition of the internationally significant Moore, Calder and Pomodoro sculptures; and the Gordon Lambert donation of 8 Victor Vasarely prints in cooperation with IMMA.

Significant loans include the Gulbenkian Foundation 20 year, 24 picture loan of the first original modern Irish and international artworks used in the College Gallery art hire scheme; the 16 Jack B. Yeats paintings; and the significant loan of 20th century Irish art to TRIARC. Many artists, alumni, and other supporters of College, such as The Arts Council of Ireland, have donated or funded the purchase of artworks, and, during the latter half of the 20th century, the Trinity College Dublin Association and Trust provided the initial College Gallery art acquisition fund and continues to support the collections in terms of conservation and internships.

‘The College Gallery’ art hire scheme was introduced in 1959. Students and staff may select and hire artworks each year, for temporary display in their rooms and offices on campus. The scheme aims to encourage and enable encounters with modern and contemporary art.

The Department of The History of Art and Architecture was founded in 1966, following the success of the Art Hire Scheme. In 1967, the first university art gallery in Ireland was established. This is known as The Douglas Hyde Gallery today. Irish and international artworks continue to be acquired every year, adding to the University Art collections.