The development of the National Collection began in 1905 under the guidance of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Artworks purchased between 1905 and 1936 formed the basis of the collection and included early New Zealand and international works with an emphasis on Britain.
The proportion of local art collected by the National Art Gallery increased steadily as confidence in the significance of the art and of the Gallery itself grew. The collection now houses a broad range of predominantly New Zealand, but also international, painting, sculpture, prints, watercolours, drawings, photographs, and archival material.
Some broad strengths and highlights of the collection are twentieth century New Zealand painting, early twentieth century British painting, international prints, British watercolours, international photography, and early New Zealand photography.
Many of these strengths have been determined by significant gifts and bequests. Numerous important trust funds have also contributed to growth in specific areas, as have major purchases - all of which, over time, bring different emphases and dimensions to the collection.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act of 1992 integrated collections formerly compartmentalised as art, ethnology, history, and natural science.
Te Papa’s art and visual culture collecting policies now incorporate significant historical material, major contemporary commissions, emerging artists, and nationally significant commercial design material.