The RKD officially opened in The Hague in 1932. From the end of 1936 till 1982 it was situated in the monumental building on the corner of the Korte Vijverberg and the Toernooiveld. The various departments, which became spread out over the years, were later reunited and were eventually housed in the Royal Library (KB) complex from 1982.
The RKD owes its existence to the collection of images and catalogues. These originally consisted of three different collections. The first donation by Dr. Cornelis Hofstede de Groot (1863-1930) formed the basis. After his passing, the art historian left an extensive collection of documentation to the RKD, including around 100,000 photos on Flemish and Netherlandish art from the seventeenth century. Before the official opening of the RKD this was added to with a donation from the collector and art expert Frits Lugt (1884-1970). The donation consisted of more than 100,000 reproductions, 22,000 auction catalogues and a few thousand books. And the last of the three was the donation of material on the Dutch portrait by Esq. Dr. E.A. van Beresteyn LL.M.(1876-1948).
Shortly after the Second World War the traditional base – the Old Netherlandish Paintings – was supplemented with a collection of (inter)national modern and contemporary art. A large collection of press documentation, archives and sculptures further enriched the collection. With these additions the RKD grew over the years to become the international prominent art historical documentation centre is has become today. Since 1995 the RKD has been an independent foundation. However, the collections under the management of the RKD remain state owned. The name was changed in 2014 to RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. The RKD’s scale of analogue and digital collections of illustrations, library and archivalia places it at the top of the most important art historical knowledge institutes in the world.