In 1938 The College of Fine Arts was founded with departments of Art, Music and Drama. The Visual Resources Collection had its start around 1940 and with the hiring of Art Historian Marian B. Davis in 1945, its first strong advocate. Davis, along with other founding members of the Art History program, began to gather slides from Museum offerings, early commercial suppliers such as Color Slides Cooperative and Prothmann and donations from Texas artists like Everett Spruce and Charles Umlauf. By 1961, the Collection had over 34,000 slides, although they remained uncatalogued and searches were still problematic. Starting in 1961 a new system of cataloging was begun, using the Fogg Museum Classification System and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Slide classification system, a classification system which continued to be used until digital formatting fully replaced slides in 2008. From the very first, the goal of the VRC was to provide images for teaching and research for Art History and Studio Faculty and Students, as well as those in other departments on the UT campus.
The hiring of Nancy S. Schuller as curator of the Visual Resources Collection in 1967, a position she held for the next 34 years until her retirement in 2001, proved to be an exceptionally important one. Schuller not only helped grow the collection of slides to over 550,000 and one of the largest University Slide Collections in the United States, but also became a pivotal figure in the founding of the Visual Resources Association, helping to train other Visual Resources Collection specialists all over the country through her publications and seminars. She was also ahead of her time in seeing the usefulness of computers for VRC collections and in 1967-68 began working on a digital computer system with a standard thesaurus of terms that would give image searchers a multipoint access system to images by artist, title, keyword and so forth. Schuller wanted a computer access system that would allow in-depth, creative research and show the relationships among works of art, artists and periods – goals that Visual Resources Collection specialists still strive for today.
Starting in 2001, the Visual Resources Collection, under the leadership of Art Historian, Dr. Sigrid Knudsen, began to acquire digital images in earnest. In-house, high-quality TIFF format digital images have been created since 2004. For the display of these digital images, Knudsen worked with the College of Liberal Arts, the College of Fine Arts and the General Libraries to develop the password protected DASe, (Digital Archives Services), one of the digital data bases at UT Austin. During these years, until Knudsen retired in 2009, the Visual Resource Collection participated in the licensing of the digital collections of images of Archivision and the Allan T. Kohl Collection and the digitization and subsequent display on ARTstor of the Jackie Barnitz Collection of Latin American Art and the Ferguson/Royce Archive of Maya sites. The Visual Resources Collection also worked with the Blanton Museum to place a growing number of the Blanton Museum holdings on DASe. At the same time, Dr. Knudsen oversaw the entering of catalog information for over 218,000 slides from accession cards into a searchable database. In 2009, the Visual Resources Collection made the move from the Department of Art and Art History to become part of the Fine Arts Library.