The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaíon started contributing towards the purchase of works of art in the late nineteen fifties, at first contributing half the cost of paintings for CIE Hotels as they were then known. In the early sixties, the Council decided to form a permanent collection, which would form the basis of a tour of Irish art outside Ireland. This tour eventually took place in 1969-71 to Scandinavia, Germany, England and Scotland.

During the sixties and into the early seventies a series of tours of work from the Collection took place around Ireland. These tours were usually called ‘Paintings from the Arts Council Collection’ or ‘Work from the Arts Council Collection’.