The National Gallery of Iceland houses the main collection of Icelandic art, covering in particular 19th and 20th century Icelandic and international art. It contains the main Icelandic key works of the 20th century, by the nation’s leading artists. The collection is in constant enlargement. New works of art by young artist are bought every year with selected works by older painters to improve the collection.
The founding donation of the National Gallery is a collection of works Björn Bjarnarson (1853-1918) Icelandic lawyer in Copenhagen, collected so his countrymen would be able to enjoy the fine art in their very own gallery of art. In this collection are works by many of Denmark's finest artists, such as Joakim Skovgaard, Christian Blache and Peter Krøyer.
The founding donation also included gifts like the bequest of Edvald J. Johnsen a Copenhagen physician, from the year 1893 and contribution from King Christian IX and Crown Princess Louise of Denmark. By the year 1900, 74 paintings and 2 sculptures had been registered, along with a selection of prints. Icelandic artists were not many at this time but, soon after the turn of the century, their numbers increased. The first Icelandic work the collection received was the sculpture Outlaws by Einar Jónsson, donated in 1902 and than in 1911 the collection received its first painting by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson, Repose.
In the collection are generous gifts from artist such as Finnur Jónsson and his wife Guðný Elísdóttir, the bequest of Gunnlaugur Scheving, to the collection, bequest of Guðmundur Benediktsson and previously, the bequest of Guðmunda Andrésdóttir. The collection has also had some bounteous gifts from individuals and the Gallery values all the individuals that have showed the Gallery good will over the years.
The collection holds about 10.000 works.