The National Gallery Art School, School of Design took its first students in June 1867.
In 1870 the school split. Eugene von Guerard was appointed instructor of painting and master of the School of Art and Thomas Clark was appointed instructor and master of the School of Design. The two schools were run as separate institutions — the School of Design prepared students for the School of Painting. In 1887 the School of Design became the Drawing School.
The roll book of the National Gallery Art School reads like a who's who of Australian art history. Students included Rose MacPherson (Margaret Preston), Leslie Wilkie, George Coates, George Bell, Norman McGeorge, Hugh Ramsey, Max Meldrum, David Boyd and Joy Hester, who were taught by the likes of Frederick McCubbin and Bernard Hall.
In 1973 the National Gallery Art School became the first school of the Victorian College of the Arts, which itself became an affiliated college of the University of Melbourne in 1991.
The collection contains early administrative records acquired by Lucy Kerley, student (1941–1946) and later honorary librarian. Her interest in preserving the history of the school led her to compile research notebooks and files gathered over numerous years, as well as some photographs and student magazines containing samples of students' work.