The National Art Gallery and Alexandros Soutzos Museum, the most important institution in Greece devoted to the subject of the history of Greek and Western European art, has been in operation, in its present form, since 1976. The actual founding of the institution dates back to 1900, when the relevant decree was published and the duties of curator were undertaken by George Iakovides (1900-1918). Already, however, in 1834, within the framework of the new social organization – on Western European lines – of the newly-born Greek state, the decree “On Technological Collections” provided for the founding, in Athens, of a Museum of paintings and engravings.
Alexandros Soutzos, a lawyer and art-lover, donated all his property and his collection of works of art, for the creation of a Museum of painting. In 1918, under the directorship of Zacharias Papantoniou (1918-1940), the first constitution of the National Art Gallery was drawn up and, in 1954, the gallery was amalgamated with the Alexandros Soutzos Museum of Painting. The Art Gallery gives priority to the presentation of the Greek art of the period after the War of Independence. The initial nucleus of paintings, which had already been formed in the early years of the new state, under governor Capodistria, was enriched by donations, particularly of works of western European art, which had belonged to wealthy Greeks of the diaspora. To the 117 works, which the museum numbered in 1878, were added a large number of paintings donated by Alexandros Soutzos, among which are paintings by Caravaggio, Andrea Pavia, Stefano Tzangarolo, Ghyzis, Lytras, Volanakis, etc.
Today, the National Gallery possesses a collection of 9.500 paintings, sculptures and engravings as well as miniatures and furniture.
Apart from the important donations, which continued to flow in, the art treasures of the gallery were enriched in the times of Zacharias Papantoniou and Marinos Kalligas, by purchases of important works, such as the “Concert of the Angels” by Domenicos Theotokopoulos (El Greco), Lorenzo Veneziano’s “Crucifixion”, the “Virgin”, a work of the 16th-cebtury School of nothern Italy, the exceptional collection of engravings from the 16th to the 20th century. In 1977, the splendid Euripides Coutlides collection was also added to the National Art Gallery, and the two collections, which complement each other, thus present a total view of the Greek 19th-century art.
Today, there is a speciazized library on the History of Art at the National Art Gallery. A complete photographic workshop has been set up, as well as a modern conservation workshop; also a wood restoration and carpentry workshop, while another service undertakes the conservation of paper. Finally, on the ground floor of the main building, has been created a Gallery of Sculptures, for the display of 19th and 20th-century sculptures.
The most important collections of the National Gallery are:
-Greek Painting (19th – 20th century)