The collection began in the 19th century with a number of gifts from private collectors and artists whose works were on long term display at the SLG. Over the course of the next hundred years the collection continued to grow, especially in the 1950s when a substantial collection of prints by modern British artists was acquired.
In 2003, the SLG’s collection was separated into the contemporary collection comprising approximately 145 works from post 1970, and the historic collection embracing all earlier pieces.
Today the historic collection includes watercolours, drawings, prints and maps of local views; Victorian paintings and drawings; 16th to 19th century prints; 20th century prints; lithographs by Honoré Daumier (1808-1879); 20th century works acquired through the Contemporary Art Society, including a Walter Sickert oil painting; a small collection of sculpture from the late 19th century to the present; ceramics, including pieces of Martinware pottery; 17th and 18th century textiles; and coins and medals.
Today the SLG’s historic collection is managed by Southwark Council as part of the Southwark Art Collection.