Before partition in 1920–1922, art in Northern Ireland (Ulster) was an intrinsic part of the story of Irish art and of Dublin’s artistic relationship with London.

Art in Ulster has traditional links with industry, particularly linen and shipbuilding, and the need for good industrial design. But there was a relative lack of patronage and education opportunities for artists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the first half of nineteenth century, Hugh Frazer, Joseph Molloy and Andrew Nicholl were among the first artists able to support themselves, specialising in local landscapes and scenes.

Hugh Frazer played a key role in promoting the fine arts in Ulster with his wish to establish a ‘Belfast Institute of Fine Arts’ to rival the Royal Academy and the Royal Hibernian Academy. But it was not until a very successful exhibition in 1888 that a permanent space was allotted for an art gallery in Belfast. This was followed, in 1929, by the establishment of the Belfast Art Gallery and Museum (now the Ulster Museum). 

Northern Irish art has flourished since the late nineteenth century, Sir John Lavery, William Conor, William Scott, Paul Henry and T. P. Flanagan being some of the best known artists. This has continued with the development of local contemporary art, of which there is a substantial and rich collection throughout the Province.