The Government College of Fine Arts (initially known as the Madras School of Art) in Chennai is the oldest art institution in India. The institution was established in 1850 by surgeon Alexander Hunter as a private art school. In 1852, after being taken over by the government, it was renamed as the Government School of Industrial Arts. In 1962, it was renamed as the Government School of Arts and Crafts and the Government College of Arts and Crafts, before finally being renamed as present.
During British rule in India, the crown found that Madras had many talented and artistic minds. As the British had also established a settlement in and around Madras, Georgetown was chosen to establish an institute that would cater to the artistic expectations of the royals in London. At first traditional artists were employed to produce furniture, metalwork, and curios, and their work was sent to the royal palaces of the Queen. The institute established itself as the first school of art in India, predating the University of Madras. The school was located at Popham’s Broadway. In 1852, it was shifted to its present premises, a four-acre campus on Poonamallee High Road.
In 1928, Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury joined as its vice-principal and in 1929, he became its first Indian principal. He was the principal until 1957. He was succeeded by K.C.S. Paniker. Later, a number of noted artists held the role of principal, including R. Krishna Rao, S. Dhanapal, K.L. Munuswamy, A.P. Santhanaraj and C.J. Anthony Doss.
In 1966, former principal K.C.S. Paniker, along with his students and some artists associated with the college, founded the Cholamandal Artists' Village, near Chennai, which is still considered one of the '10 biggest art moments' in India.
The institute offers courses leading to the Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees [Faculty of Engineering] in painting, sculpture, visual communication, commercial arts, textile design, graphic arts and ceramics. It offers postgraduate programmes in painting, visual communication, textile designs and ceramics. In 2009, it started offering a course leading to the master's degree in Fine Arts in sculpture.
Among the prominent artists who have graduated from this institute are: Santhanaraj (painting and sculpture), Munusamy (painting), K.M. Adimoolam (drawing and painting), Surendranath (painting), Alphonso Aruldoss (painting), C. Dhakshinamoorthy (sculpture, drawing, painting and printmaking) R.B. Bhaskaran (drawing, painting and printmaking), Debi Prasad Roy Chowdhury (sculpture), K. C. S. Paniker, Kanniappan (sculpture), Manohar Natarajan (drawing and painting), R. Krishna Rao (painting), S. Dhanapal (sculpture), Kanayi Kunjiraman (sculpture), Rm. Palaniappan (printing), Trotsky Marudu (drawing and painting), P. S. Devanath (painting), G. Selvaraj (sculpture), Chandru (sculpture), Ebenezer Sunder Singh (painting and sculpture), M. Ramalingam (drawing, painting, and printmaking), Aruldoss (painting), Radhakrishnan Natesapillai (printmaking and painting), Sivakumar (drawing, painting, and acting), V.Rajendran (painting and drawing), Syed Thajudeen (Malaysian figurative artist), K. Ramanujam (painting) and Pa. Ranjith (Director)