The New Brunswick Museum's collection of international art may be described as eclectic, though mostly of American or British origin, and dominated by portraiture - the latter constitute more than three quarters of the holdings. These characteristics derive from the fact that most of the paintings were acquired for their connections of New Brunswick.
There have been a variety of such connections. Beginning with the Loyalists, immigrants sometimes brought paintings with them to the province. Once established here, some returned to their homelands to have their portraits painted. Others commissioned likenesses from foreign itinerant artists who visited New Brunswick from time to time. During the nineteenth century, members of the province's prosperous shipping families occasionally sat for portraits during trips abroad. In addition, New Brunswick art collectors acquired works while they were traveling or living elsewhere.
The province's historical and geographical links with New England have meant that American artists periodically visited this area as a natural extension of their activity in artists' colonies along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Maine. As a maritime province, New Brunswick has also attracted European artists who could take advantage of the regular shipping between New Brunswick and European ports.
Most of the international paintings have come into the Museum directly from New Brunswick families or their descendants living outside the province. The collection also includes a substantial number of ship portraits. These may be seen on display in the Wind, Wood and Sail Gallery. Currently displayed in the International Gallery is a selection from of British and Irish artworks.