Since its foundation, collecting directly from artists has been part of the RSA’s mission to support and encourage contemporary artists.

In 1829 the purchase of William Etty’s Judith and Holofernes (transferred to the National Gallery of Scotland in 1910), set a path for contemporary collecting. When funds allowed, notable examples were added to the collections and print and photography library in the 19th century.

In the 20th century, endowment funds were created for the purchase of contemporary art from RSA Annual Exhibitions. Purchases made with the Thorburn Ross Fund (est. 1919) and the David Muirhead Memorial Fund (est. 1933) have added strength and depth to the collections.

In 2014 an acquisition fund was established to help fill gaps in the collections of work by past members of the RSA. Setting a strategic vision for collecting, this fund marks an historic point in the development of the collections and is the first time the RSA has turned its eye to guided retrospective collecting.