Shetland Museum and Archives maintains collections about Shetland heritage and culture, from the Neolithic to the present day. It has substantial collections in archaeology, including marine archaeology, 18th- and 19th-century folk life, woollen textiles and fishing.
The museum’s collection of art reflects some of these themes, as well as portraits and landscapes. The clear light and dramatic seascapes and landscapes have made Shetland a destination for artists for several centuries. In the 19th century, Shetland was a desired location for artists wishing to capture the timeless nature of the local crofting and seafaring way of life. The collection contains works by many of these British and Scandinavian visiting artists, as well as local talent. A large number of oil portraits by John Irvine (1805–1888), completed before he emigrated to New Zealand, form part of the collection.
The museum supports a gallery which changes monthly, focusing mainly on exhibitions by contemporary local and visiting artists. It actively collects historical and contemporary works on a Shetland theme.