Past and present

Central European Art History Research Institute

A fundamental task stipulated by the Museum of Fine Arts’ founding deeds of 1896 is the locating, collecting, professional administration, scientific research and classification of cultural assets within its scope of collecting – i.e. Hungarian and European artworks – as well as the related material, visual, written, audio and other resources along with providing professional support to external researchers and operating a research service. Hence, the museum started collecting data and information about works in its collection as well as those in private and ecclesiastical ownership. The staff had always nurtured good ties with private collectors and the art dealing circuit, acting as experts in identifying the artworks put up for auction, and participating in the professional assessment, research and publication of significant private collections, and in organising exhibitions. In 1920 the museum established the Hungarian Art Archives with the aim of systematising the documents related to Hungarian art and artists; in 1945 it had ca. 4,500 inventory items.

With the introduction of the new artwork protection system in the 1950s, the museum carried out professional and official tasks alike and in 1958 a department was set up for the administration of artworks enjoying special priority whose experts kept their eye on artworks emerging in the art circuit for decades.

The foundation of the Hungarian National Gallery in 1957 meant the formerly unified collection being split into two and the data collecting continuing in two separate institutions: the Museum of Fine Arts was assigned the task of documenting European artworks and artefacts discovered and known in the area of historical Hungary, while the Hungarian National Gallery collected data and resources on domestic artists and artworks.

When the Museum and Fine Arts and the Hungarian National Gallery were reunited in 2013, the opportunity arose for the joint administration of the two documentational units. In the first phase of the structural reorganisation both museums had their own archival and library departments, but in 2014 a unified archive and documentation head department came into being comprising the Database, Photo Archives and Monument Protection Document Repository of the Hungarian National Gallery, and the documentation Department and Monument Protection Document Repository of the Museum of Fine Arts with its photo archives.

The conception of the Central European Art History Research Institute (KEMKI) was motivated by the by-then urgent need to establish a modern art history documentation centre where all the archive resources and documents collected by the museums would be accessible and researchable in one institution.