The European Art Gallery was initially part of the larger Foreign Art Department, which also held the Oriental art and the decorative arts patrimonies. The Museum’s collection of European paintings and sculptures comprises 2,761 works (2,233 paintings and 528 sculptures), and is the largest in Romania. Organized by schools, the works range in date from the fourteenth through the twentieth century. At the core of the collection is the Picture Gallery of King Carol I, assembled mostly over the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The patrimony increased with the addition of several lots of works from the collections of Baron Samuel von Bruckenthal, Ioan and Dr. Nicolae Kalinderu, as well as from museums such as Toma Stelian, Anastase Simu, Al. Saint-Georges, and the Bucharest Picture Gallery. After 1950, gifts and acquisitions further increased the patrimony of the Department.
The Department of Romanian Medieval Art, which holds the largest and valuable collection of its kind in Romania, was established in 1953, and was opened to the public six years later, in 1959. It illustrates the way local art blended Byzantine tradition with Western elements, integrating Eastern and Western influences into a singular original synthesis. Over 9,500 works drawn from all three Romanian Principalities – Walachia, Moldavia and Transylvania – span five centuries of artistic achievement, from late fourteenth century through early nineteenth century. The patrimony include icons, fresco fragments, embroideries and textiles, illuminated manuscripts and rare books, silver, jewelry, woodcarvings, metalwork, and ceramics. The core of the present patrimony came to the Museum from public collections (primarily from the National Museum of Antiquities) created after the Union of the Romanian Principalities in 1859. The religious art collection of the National Antiquities Museum was created after the secularization of monastery assets. The law passed in December 1863 was one of the most important projects in the development of modern Romania, having been supported by prominent art and culture representatives of the time. Church treasures and artifacts were transferred to the public domain in exchange for considerable financial compensation, funding for which the state had to contract its first foreign loans. Archaeological finds and works from the national art treasure sent to Russia for safekeeping in 1916, and partly recovered in 1956, as well as various acquisitions and donations, further consolidated the collection. Furthermore, church artifacts and architectural works saved from buildings which were, controversially, demolished during the communist regime, were added to the Romanian Medieval Art collection.
The Department of Romanian Modern Art holds more than 8,600 paintings and 2,000 sculptures, which represent the largest and finest collection of Romanian art in the country. The history of this collection largely reflects the development of Romanian modern art itself. The first collection of paintings by Romanian artists in Bucharest dates back to 1834. In 1864 it was given the name the State Picture Gallery. Notable works from smaller museums in Bucharest, such as Anastase Simu, Toma Stelian, Kalinderu, Al. Saint-Georges, were added to the valuable patrimony of the department. Other masterworks by Romanian artists came from the Bucharest Picture Gallery, the National Bank, the Romanian Academy, the Administration of Hospitals, and the collection of the Romanian Crown. Since its establishment in 1948, the Department of Romanian Modern Art has also increased its patrimony through gifts, donations and acquisitions.
An important part of the stone sculpture collection of the Romanian Medieval Art Gallery is hosted by the Art Collections Museum. The restoration of the “A Wing” of the Art Collections Museum occasioned the reopening of its cellars to the public. The three vaulted rooms, with niches (in the fake brickwork walls) ending in pointed arches, were the ideal space for organizing the Lapidarium. The stone sculptures, some of which are displayed for the first time, were initially part of several old Romanian architectural monuments that had disappeared in different circumstances: some demolished as a result of the systematization that took place in late 19th century, others irrationally demolished during the 1980s. During the Middle Ages, stone sculpture in Romania primarily focused on decorating religious and civil monuments because Orthodox religious doctrine, which had to be respected, forbid the representation of the “carved face”. The Lapidarium exhibits a variety of tombstones, inscriptions, decorative door and window frames, monumental columns, column bases and capitals. The pieces have historical, documentary and artistic value, and depict the craftsmanship and skill of the Wallachian stone masters from the 14th to the 18th century.