Museum of Fine Arts


in short

The museum's collection of international art comprises more than 100.000 objects. The museum has six departments: Egyptian, Antique, Old sculpture gallery, Old painter gallery, Modern collection, Graphics collection.
The Museum of Fine Arts
© Szépművészeti Múzeum
Logo: Museum of Fine Arts

Museum of Fine Arts

in detail

The Egyptian Collection
The four thousand Ancient Egyptian artefacts kept by the Museum of Fine Arts make it the second biggest Ancient Egyptian collection in Central Europe. The core items come from excavations which took place at the Ptolemaic-era sites at Gamhud and Saruna in 1907. While their artistic quality as well as their historical importance make these remains extremely important (the Imhotep figurine, the statue of Shosenk the heir to the throne, etc.), the wide range of artefacts relating to Late Period Ancient Egyptian religion and art is also worthy of mention. The collection was further enriched by the artefacts which came to light at the 1964 excavations at Abdullah Nirqi, and the 1983 excavations at Thebes.
The Antiquities Collection
The collection of original classical objects did not feature among the original aims of the museum at the time of its foundation. Instead attention focused on developing the collection of plaster-cast copies of classical sculptures inherited from the National Museum’s collection. Indeed, the ground floor galleries of the museum were designed with the exhibition of plaster casts in mind. In 1908, however, thanks to the efforts of Antal Hekler the museum purchased 135 specially selected marble sculptures from Paul Arndt’s collection in Munich. It was this which formed the basis of the Antiquities Collection. In 1914, Hekler acquired 650 terracottas, again from Arndt, on behalf of the museum. These represented the work of just about all the schools from the Mycenaean Epoch right up to the Imperial Roman period. For a period of four decades these made up what was known as the Antique Sculptural Collection. In a statute dating from 1934, the Museum of Fine Arts was made the central collection for those antiquities not coming to light on Hungarian soil. As a result the ancient classical and the ancient oriental objects from the National Museum and all the other Hungarian museums made their way to what now became known as the Antiquities Department. The collection was further increased in size by the acquisition of several large private collections, some occasional state purchases and a number of international exchanges. Following the separation of the Egyptian Collection in 1957, and the acquisitions which have taken place since, the number of antique artefacts in the collection now stands at more than five thousand.
As a result of the increases, what had been a collection restricted only to sculpture now has new collection areas, especially the collection of a thousand or more vases, Cypriot and Punic antiquities, Greek, Etruscan and Roman bronzes, antique glass and particularly the painted mummy portraits and stucco mummy masks from Roman Egypt acquired over the last decade and a half. There are also five hundred artefacts representing Coptic art, including an important group of textiles. From 1950, the Antiquities Department displayed its ancient art in a permanent exhibition arranged in chronological order, starting with Neolithic and Kykladic idols. The archaic and classical Greek material was arranged into artistic centres, with special attention being paid to the most important Hellenistic sculptures in the museum’s collection. Considerable space was also devoted to the cultures of Italy prior to the Roman conquest, particularly to Etruscan antiquities and the southern Italian red-figured vases. The display of the Roman artefacts focused on the relationships existing between landscapes and styles, whilst Greco-Roman Egypt and the substantial collection of Coptic art brought the exhibition to an end.
The Old Picture Gallery
The Old Picture Gallery contains about three thousand paintings providing an unbroken account of the development of European painting from the 13th century right up to the 18th century.
The permanent exhibition of the Picture Gallery displays the great periods in Italian painting from the Late Gothic to the Rococo, from Giotto as far as Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. The size and variety of the collection means that visitors have an opportunity to become acquainted with the history of the Italian Schools through works of the very highest quality.
The paintings of the Spanish collection in particular have earned the Museum of Fine Arts the reputation it currently enjoys. The seventy works on display mean that visitors can enjoy a complete survey of Spanish painting as represented by some excellent works by Velázquez, Ribera, El Greco, Murillo and Goya
The collection of 15th-18th century Netherlandish painting is about the same size as the Italian collection, extending from the medieval and Renaissance masters (Gerard David, Hans Memling, Pieter Bruegel the Elder), through the greats of Flemish Art (P. P. Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens) to the Dutch Baroque masters (Rembrandt and his Circle, the Ruisdael Brothers, Pieter de Hooch). Visitors therefore have the opportunity to trace Netherlandish painting from its medieval beginnings to the bourgeois genres of the Baroque Age (genre painting, landscapes, portraits and still lifes).
The Picture Gallery has a rich collection of German and Austrian paintings. The exhibition takes one from the medieval panel paintings of the German lands (Han Holbein the Elder), through Renaissance painting (Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach), to the representatives of 17th and 18th century schools (Johann Kupezky, Franz Anton Maulbertsch)
17th and 18th century French and British painting is also represented in our collection albeit to a lesser extent. In the Old Picture Gallery there are some works by some of the great French masters, such as Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Simon Vouet, J-B. Siméon Chardin, Hubert Robert and J-B. Greuze, whilst our British Collection provides visitors with an opportunity, rare outside British Isles, of seeing 18th century British Art.
The Old Sculpture Collection
That the Old Sculpture Collection has developed is thanks to the Millennium legislation founding the Museum of Fine Arts and the museological collection activities which had already been going on up to that point. When Károly Pulszky, the cultured and visionary director of the National Picture Gallery, went to Italy in 1894 and 1895 to buy works for the Museum of Fine Arts, he returned with sculptures as well as paintings. These included such important works as Agostino di Duccio’s Archangel Gabriel. Pulszky succeeded in putting together a collection of considerable importance, covering the development of Italian sculpture from the 14th to the 16th century.
Following this, purchases slowed down drastically. It was a trend finally halted in 1914, when the Museum of Fine Arts purchased the sculptor István Ferenczy’s (1792-1856) bequest. It was this excellent collection, made up mainly of the Italian bronze statuettes that he acquired during a stay in Rome, that included Leonardo’s Equestrian Statue, and The Rape of Europe made by a Paduan studio.
Elek Petrovics, who was made director of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1914, realised the importance of this relatively small yet valuable collection, and despite the difficult circumstances at the time of the First World War did much to increase its size. Apart from looking to increase the amount of Italian Renaissance material, he sought to purchase northern European (German, Netherlandish, French) sculpture. The results of his endeavours are such significant sculptures as the painted stone Beautiful Madonna; the Our Lady of Sorrows and Cologne School St John the Evangelist and the Madonna by Tilman Riemenschneider.
 The collection’s first exhibition was organised by Simon Meller in 1921 in two galleries in the southern part of the museum. The Old Sculpture Collection became a department in its own right in 1935. Between 1936 and 1967, the head curator of the collection, Jolán Balogh, gradually built up the collection on permanent display on the second floor and in the galleries on the half floor immediately underneath. During his lengthy curatorship the collection doubled in size. His successors have continued to develop the collection which has in the meantime attained international stature.
The Prints and Drawings Collection
The more than eight thousand drawings and almost ten thousand prints making up the Graphics Collection cover the period from the 14th century until the Present Day. As with the Old Picture Gallery the basis of the collection was established with the purchase of the Eszterházy Collection by the Hungarian state in 1871, something which involved the acquisition of three and a half thousand drawings and more than five thousand prints. The most valuable old Italian, German, French and Netherlandish drawings, the plates by Leonardo, Raphael, Dürer, Altdorfer, Wolf Huber, Poussin and Rembrandt, as well as numerous prints by Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya and Piranesi were all acquired in this way. For the continued growth of the collection between the founding of the Museum of Fine Arts and its opening, one should be grateful first to Károly Pulszky, Gábor Térey and Simon Meller for the purchases they made abroad, and painter István Delhaes, who died in Vienna in 1901, who left 2,683 drawings and 14,453 prints to the Hungarian state in his will.
The drawings in particular complement the Esterházy Collection nicely, for although Delhaes bought plates from all the European schools covering a period of four centuries, most of the works are the work of 18th and 19th Austrian and German artists. The 19th and early 20th century works, particularly the superb collection of French drawings, came to the museum as part of the Pál Majovszky gift in 1934. Majovszky, who was head of the arts department at Ministry of Religion and Public Education built up his collection with the intention of later presenting it to the museum. It is much to his credit that the museum now has works by some of the greats of 19th century French art: Delacroix, Daumier, Corot, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Signac, Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec and Rodin. His gift also led to the inclusion of some fine English, German and Austrian drawings, including those by Gainsborough, Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Friedrich and Menzel. The Dutch works include plates by Van Gogh and Jongkind. Although the works from the beginning of the 20th century are fewer in number they are also of outstanding quality.
Over the last few decades several thousand prints and drawings have been added to the collection, some being purchases made in Hungary, others substantial gifts like those given by H. Daniel Kahlweiler and Victor Vasarely. The regular collection of contemporary works which started in the 1960s has been aided by the 20th Century Foundation, founded in 1986, and through international exchange. Because of paper’s sensitivity to light the prints and drawings are only shown at the temporary exhibitions at the special gallery provided for that purpose on the ground floor of the museum.
The Modern Collection
When the Museum of Fine Arts building was opened, apart from a few Austrian Biedermeier paintings, a few contemporary paintings from the turn of the century purchased by the National Picture Gallery were all there was from the previous one hundred years. The paintings there were (by Stuck, Lenz, Khnopff and Segantini) fortunately reflected well on the purchasers. Bought just at the right time, almost at the time of completion, they provided the core of the fin-de-siècle Symbolist and Secession collection we have today. For a painfully long time this was all the nominal Modern Collection could offer visitors to the recently renovated Ionic Hall. The core of the 19th century collection was primarily an unbroken account, providing a cross-section of French painting from Delacroix onwards. This was mainly thanks to the bequest of Count János Pálffy, as well the purchase of a Pissarro and an early Gauguin. The fact that the collection of French Impressionist and post-Impressionist material was to attain international importance is most definitely due to Elek Petrovics, under whose curatorship (1914-1935) most of the collection was assembled.
The acquisition of the Herzog Collection (works by Monet, Renoir and Corot) in 1945 was the culmination of Petrovics’s earlier endeavours. That the museum now has such a homogenous collection of 19th century French paintings is due to Petrovics’s taste and his feeling for the paintings. At the same time his indifference towards the art of the opening decades of the 20th century, the very ones through which he lived, meant that we are left with gaping omissions in our collection that we are hardly ever likely to fill. The lack of conviction seen in Petrovics’s time was to carry over into the decades which followed. The result was that the museum only acquired 4-5 recently completed works in the half century prior to 1960. Making up the massive shortfalls has required the expenditure of huge amounts of effort, and even then the works acquired thus far fail to do justice to the main currents in what is now considered a distinct art historical period. It is Krisztina Passuth we should thank for the foundation of the contemporary collection.
The opportunity to fill some of the gaps in the collection and to offer a modicum of artistic activity in the museum came with Victor Vaserely’s gift to the museum in 1969 of the work of some of the leading abstract artists of the 1950s. This gift not only gave a new impetus to the task of collecting the work of living artists, for a time it also set the tone for the collection. Although there are some works from the first half of the 20th century, the real character of the collection is determined by the more recent works.
Museum of Fine Arts
The buildings of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Gallery, the Millennium Monument on Heroes’ Square and Andrássy Road, which leads up to the square, form part of the World Heritage. Heroes’ Square is defined by the historicizing, Romantic Millennium Monument, paying tribute to the one thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian Conquest. The marble column of the monument, which announces Heroes’ Square even from quite a distance, stands in the extended axis of Andrássy Road, which runs into Dózsa György Road. The square is flanked on both sides by the City Park, which serves as a kind of impressive frame. The splendid structure of the Museum of Fine Arts, constructed last among the buildings representing the historicizing style of Hungarian Eclectic architecture, is situated directly opposite the neo-Renaissance palace of the Art Gallery.  
The Millennial Diet of 1896 enacted a law on merging the fine arts collections preserved in various institutions and thus established the Museum of Fine Arts. Albert Schickedanz and Fülöp Herzog were commissioned with the design and execution of the new museum building. The gallery consisting of original paintings was exhibited in the upstairs halls, while the history of sculpture could only be demonstrated by gypsum copies. Evoking the styles of the periods of art history, the Doric, Ionic, Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque halls on the ground floor were designed to house the life-size copies of statues.
As the museum acquired more and more original works, the gypsum statues were gradually taken out of the building and the halls on the ground floor are now used to exhibit original works of art. Today the only copy that can be seen on the tympanum at the main entrance is that of the gable relief which originally decorated the Temple of Zeus. As part of a continuous reconstruction work the museum building was extended with basement halls in 1993, and new exhibition rooms can also be found here.
permanent exhibition: 1800/ 900 HUF
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Visitor entrance

Museum of Fine Arts
Dózsa György út 41.
1146 Budapest
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