The past, present and future of the Municipal Gallery

Small collection without attempting to be comprehensive

MúzeumCafé 51.

The Municipal Gallery, formerly housing the most significant collection of modern Hungarian fine arts, today functions as one of the main departments of the Budapest History Museum. The art collecting activity of the Hungarian capital as a patron of the arts began directly after the unification of Buda, Pest and Óbuda in 1873. The municipality began by commissioning artists to paint portraits of ‘patriots’ and soon continued with an annually determined amount for spending on artworks. The idea of establishing the Municipal Museum first arose in 1887, but it opened only in 1907, following the Millenary Celebration of 1896, in the then building of the Kunsthalle (today the Olof Palme House in the City Park). From 1925 purchasing experienced a new impetus. The range of items bought expanded with classical works, though the priority continued to be the support of artists by means of purchases. The conception for a picture gallery in the mansion of Count MihályKárolyi, which had been left to the city, was elaborated by DénesCsánki. In essence, following the acceptance of the concept, the Municipal Gallery was officially established following a municipal decision of 10 November 1932. Then began the separation of the collections and the decisions concerning which works and on what basis would be moved from the municipality and the Municipal Museum to the picture gallery. Patronage of the arts received another new impetus in 1945, with works of the Group of Socialist Artists and the European School coming into prominence. The Municipal Gallery opened its exhibition on 1 June 1945. In April 1953 the Municipal Gallery was nationalised. The collection, having merged with the New Hungarian Gallery of the Fine Arts Museum, formed the basis of the Hungarian National Gallery, established in 1957. In 1959 the municipal council decided to recommence the formation of its own fine arts collection. The quickly expanding collection necessitated an organisational restructuring and on the centenary of the city’s unification the Municipal History and Fine Arts departments in the Kiscell mansion were separated. On the initiative of the latter, the church space there, used for storage since 1945, was turned into a site for temporary displays, with a milestone show being the 1988 exhibition
(a pun for  in Hungarian). Then, following renovation, the Fine Arts Department – known since 1989 as the Municipal Gallery – staged its temporary displays there. The gallery’s permanent exhibition opened in March 1992. Notwithstanding the changing of a number of objects, it can still be seen today.