The Royal Collections

The history of the collections

From royal kunstkammer to public museum. The Gallery’s collections can be traced back to the Danish monarch’s collections, dating back to the 17th century. In 1896 the Gallery’s building in Sølvgade was inaugurated. Today, the collection continues to grow with the aid of generous donations and foundations.

Michel Sittow: Portræt af Christian II 1514/1515

Michel Sittow, Portrait of the Danish King Christian II, 1514/1515

The King’s collections

The collections have roots reaching all the way back to the 16th century to King Christian II and the royal collections housed at the so-called Kunstkammer at Christiansborg Castle. The Danish kings bought and were given works of art from all over Europe. Up until the late 18th century the collections reflect the fact that the artists chosen to paint for the kings were mainly summoned to Denmark from abroad.

The oldest part of the collection comprises Western European art from around 1300 to 1800 with special focus areas within Dutch, Flemish, Italian, French, and German art. It is Denmark’s most important collection of older non-Danish painting and sculpture, and with its more than 2,600 works of art it is the only large-scale collection of its kind in Denmark.

Danish art from the mid-18th century

When the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts was founded in the mid-18th century it formed the basis for a distinctly Danish vein of art, which becomes evident in the Gallery’s collection of art from the Danish Golden Age, i.e. early 19th century art.  

As the National Gallery of Denmark, the Gallery has an obligation to cover all significant art movements, periods, and artists within older Danish art. With its collection of Danish Golden Age art (1800-1850) as the pivotal point, the collections hold a significant part of what is generally accepted as Denmark’s most important national cultural heritage within the arts.

A museum in Sølvgade

In 1849 the royal collections became the property of the Danish state; this move was a result of the abolition of absolute monarchy and the general trend towards increasing democracy. However, the collections stayed at Christiansborg Palace until the palace fire of 1884, after which point it briefly became homeless. The fire prompted the construction of the National Gallery of Denmark. The museum building in Sølvgade was completed in 1896. Over the years, the building has been extended and remodelled on several occasions.

The new museum 1896

Donations from collectors

Since then the collections have grown significantly. The collection of modern art in particular reflects how major art collectors have donated important works of art to the Gallery. The Gallery’s collection of French art holds a unique position in Denmark and in an international context because Johannes Rump donated his collection of French art to the Gallery in 1927; a donation that included 25 works by Matisse.

In 1959 the Gallery received a comprehensive donation of paintings, watercolours, and graphic art as a bequest from the artist himself. Only the Nolde Foundation in Seebüll owns a more important collection of his art.

Buying international art

Since 1985 the Gallery’s collection of Danish contemporary art has been supplemented by international art. The criterion for buying international art is that it must have had an impact on the Danish art scene. Reflecting this, great emphasis is placed on the interplay between Danish and international art when presenting the most recent art.

The Collections around 1900

The entrance hall 1896

Updated: 26.apr.2018
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