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Collections Overview

Clare Langan, 'Forty Below - Submerged Figure' (1999), film still, digital print on aluminium, TCD Art Collections. © Clare Langan

The Trinity College art collections encompass painting, print, sculpture, and statuary, with a significant historical focus on portraiture. The idea of a modern art collection was initiated in 1959-60 by George Dawson (1927-2004), former Professor of Genetics, with the help of the students. A‘College Gallery’ picture hire scheme was introduced, whereby original Irish and international artworks along with original prints and artist’s posters were actively acquired for display in student and staff rooms on campus to encourage an interest in, and a critical eye for, modern and contemporary art. The historic and modern collections currently consist of approximately 2,000 artworks distributed throughout public and private locations in the main and satellite campuses, including the Provost’s House, the Old Library, the Dining Hall, the Arts and Hamilton Buildings, schools, departments, key offices, and the teaching facilities at St. James’ and Tallaght Hospitals. The College Silver collection is also under the remit of the University Art Collections Curator.


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 they equally 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.

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Use of collection in Teaching, Research, and Outreach

The 20th century introduced the study of fine art at Trinity College. Like many universities worldwide, the 1960s witnessed the establishment of a Department of the History of Art and Architecture. By 1966, Professor George Dawson’s promotion of the interests and challenges of modern and contemporary art had inspired a formal education programme in art and architectural appreciation headed by Professor Anne Crookshank, hailing from the Ulster Museum. During the 1960s and ‘70s, Dawson also recruited an informal cross-disciplinary group of volunteer students, the ‘College Gallery Committee’, staging exhibitions of emerging and established artists both on and off campus, purchasing artworks, and encouraging discerning appreciation.

In 1967, the Berkeley Library opened with a specially designed Exhibition Hall by Paul Koralek, funded by The Gulbenkian Foundation, among others.The 1969 Pablo Picasso exhibition, staged while the artist was still alive, was the first display of his art in Ireland. The university forum demonstrated an ability to showcase creativity that was still too challenging for external cultural institutions. By 1978, The Douglas Hyde Gallery opened its doors at Trinity College, championed mainly by Professor Dawson with the help of key alumni and the College Board. The gallery welcomed multidisciplinary exhibitions until the early 1980s when the Arts Council promoted the current focused contemporary art exhibition programme that has shaped Irish visual arts practice.

In 2007, the post of Curator was established, continuing in a more formal capacity the dedicated work of past curators, academics, and administrators ongoing during the latter half of the twentieth century. This has enabled preparation for the integration of the art collections as a more formal resource for the core business of College, in particular by involvement in the planning process for the new College-wide Strategic Plan. During 2010, celebratory events for the 50th anniversary of the modern collections will trigger the start of a programme of outreach to both the campus audience and the wider community.

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Collections links

The art collections have links with many of the other College collections, mostly through portraits of significant researchers in the history of the College. There are also potential links that could be created in more abstract terms through interdisciplinary interests in the creative process, subject matter, technique, and the science and technology of media used by artists.

Beyond the university, works by the artists represented are to be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Ireland, The Dublin City Gallery – the Hugh Lane, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Contemporary Art Museum in Lisbon, Portugal and many other international collections.

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Last updated 18 September 2018 (Email).