In 1917 the Government started an initiative for a National War Museum to collect and display material relating to the First World War. In 1953 the museum extended its collecting policy to cover all military operations in which Britain or the Commonwealth have been involved since August 1914. The museum was first housed at Crystal Palace in 1920, later at the Imperial Institute in South Kensignton and has occupied its current home since 1936. The building originally formed the central portion of Bethlem (or ‘Bedlam’ as it was known) Royal Hospital for psychiatric patients. The east and west wings were demolished in the early 1930s to make room for the park that now surrounds the Museum.
The collection is rich in modern British painting. Since the collection began it has focused on artworks created by artists responding to events as they unfold. It is rich in modern British painting including works by Augustus John, Sir Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash and Wyndham Lewis. The contemporary collection includes Turner Prize winner, Sir Steve McQueen, and the duo, Langlands & Bell. The galleries are also home to a collection of work from Northern Ireland with pieces by Willie Doherty, Jack Milroy and Victor Sloan.