The National Gallery of Iceland was founded in 1884 in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Björn Bjarnarson. The collection consisted of donated artwork, mainly by Danish artists.
The Museum remained an independent institution from its inception in 1884 until 1916 when Alþingi – the Icelandic Parliament – decided to make it a department in the National Heritage Museum (Þjóðminjasafn Íslands). In 1928 a law was passed in Alþingi on the Council of Culture and under that law the National Gallery came under the supervision of said council.
The collection was on show at the Alþingishús – the House of Parliament, i.e. in the building itself – from 1885 until the year 1950 when it was transferred to the building of the Þjóðminjasafn Íslands at Sudurgata. There, the collection was formally opened to the public in 1951 and in 1961 a law was passed, making the Museum fully independent.
In 1987 the collection was moved yet again to a new and the present location at Fríkirkjuvegur 7. The main building was originally erected as a freezing plant in the year 1916, designed by the renowned Icelandic architect Guðjón Samúelsson. The later addition to the building is the work of architect Garðar Halldórsson.
The NG is a national museum and the main emphasis of the collection is on 19th and 20th century Icelandic art, but international art is featured as well. The museum owns the most valuable collection of works by Icelandic artists in the country. The collection also includes an impressive array of works by internationally renowned artists such as, Pablo Picasso, Edward Munch, Karel Appel, Hans Hartung, Victor Vasarely, Richard Serra and Richard Tuttle.
The NG regularly holds colourful exhibitions reflecting its collection. The NG also hosts exhibitions by individual artists, Icelandic as well as foreign ones. These are complimented by an extensive publication of books, catalogues, posters and post-cards.
The NG’s buildings at Fríkirkjuvegur 7 houses several exhibition halls on three floors, an art store and a café.
The NG’s offices are situated on Laufásvegur 12, adjacent to the exhibition halls. In the same building a restoration laboratory is to be found and a specialist library, containing archives, documentation, and photographs.
The NG’s library is a research library that emphasizes the preservation and the dissemination of material that relates to the research field of the institution, i.e. Icelandic art.