The Art Collection includes portraits of people associated with the University and its predecessor institutions as well as the history of the Riccarton estate on which the Edinburgh campus is built. There are also contemporary works including works by artists of the Edinburgh School and sculptures commissioned for display on campus. Also, on loan to the National Museum of Scotland, is a statue of James Watt by Sir Francis Chantrey.
The history of the Riccarton Estate is represented by three portraits of members of the Gibson-Craig family, who owned the Riccarton Estate, by Henry Raeburn. The history of the institution is represented by portraits of people associated with it; these include a portrait by Sir William Beechey of James Watt, whose name the University proudly bears.
The University has established the tradition of commissioning portraits of its Principals from leading contemporary artists. These include works by Raeburn Dobson, Alan Sutherland, Peter Collins, Victoria Crowe, Alexander Fraser and Juliet Wood. There are also portraits by Stanley Cursiter, John Horsburgh, Watson Gordon and Mary Remington. A highlight of the collection is a group of paintings by artists associated with the Edinburgh College of Art, many of them first as students and then as teachers. One of the several elements brought together to create Edinburgh College of Art in 1907 was the art teaching of what was then Heriot-Watt College. Informal teaching links continued between the two institutions until, in 1968, a formal link was created when they took joint responsibility for teaching architecture and planning. Subsequently, until 2007, the University ratified the degrees awarded by the College of Art. This relationship between the two institutions is reflected in the University's art collection which includes works by John Houston, Elizabeth Blackadder and John Bellany.