The work of Stanisław August marks the beginning of modern visual arts in Poland. The king collected prints related to current political and artistic events that galvanised the European intellectual elites. At the same time, he tried to purchase prints depicting phenomena that, in his opinion, were important in the context of the modernisation of the country. He invited foreign artists who represented skills and artistic movements unknown in Poland, and he created and supported local artistic circles (which up until this time had been practically non-existent). Stanisław August’s collection—intended as the first public collection of art in Poland—was to fulfil a function similar to that of the mission of the public theatre he founded, and of the Monitor magazine. It was to become a place of public debate concerning the modern development of the country. Since the plan to establish an Academy of Fine Arts and the Musaeum Polonicum had failed, the collection became available to the wider public only at the beginning of the 19th century, where it could be viewed in the Print Room at the University.

During the 18th century it remained the king's personal collection, along with his notes and marginalia. The collection has a political character, but there is also intimacy and affection. The crucial role of aesthetics in the modernisation process led by the monarch was the result of his ‘soft power,’ Stanisław August being the only European ruler of the Enlightenment who had no real political authority. As a consequence, the collection reflects the tension between attempts to politicise aesthetics and the inevitably emerging autonomy of art.