Period before rise of separate specialized galleries

First attempts for building the public collections appeared at the turn of 18th – 19th centuries.  They are connected with ethnically conscious classes and with proposals for establishment of scientific associations and companies which should care for collecting, rescue and processing of monuments of our national past and culture. Till then the collecting had a form of family aristocratic galleries which originated from the end of Middle Ages. However, these have been only collector´s activities of incomparably smaller range, as for example in neighbouring Bohemia, from which moreover a large part finished up out of territory of Slovakia finally.

Also a romantic, patriotic motivation of interest in history and culture of the nation acceded to the Enlightenment ideals in the forties of 19th century, in consequence of which these thoughts acquire a more concrete form. Also first separate art exhibitions in Hungary from the thirties of 19th century and later also in Slovakia in the fifties and sixties (Bratislava, Košice) became an important factor in growth of interest in visual arts. Kollar´s Dictionary of Slavic Artistic that was published in 1843 is a precious cultural and historic material on life and work of visual art artists of Slavonic origin from pagan(ish) times up to contemporary times and especially a proof of successive growth of Slovak aesthetical awareness and emphasizing of interest in the fine art past. It had an influence for putting the discussions in motion in the print around the visual arts and putting also the rescue of expressions of national culture and monuments in motion. In 1846 in Slovak National News there is written:  “Of course, Mikuláš, Skalica, Štiavnica, Bytrica, Skalica…Nitra, Žilina should take care of some even thought small picture galleries in which a Slovak eye could be perfected in looking at heavens ideals and beauties! We will be always a low, nongraceful and folly nation without such institutions.” 

For certain time the effort to create a collection of Slovak antiques within the Tatrín association (1844 – 1848) becomes the centre of attention of Slovak nationalists the association received a proposal for this collection on session in 1846. However, it failed to bring about this finally. Also the effort for founding of Slovak Cultural Society brought in itself similar motivations and aims. After its rise in 1863 with concretely elaborated programme the Slovak Cultural Society had ambitions to create within its activity a museum exposition including in a smaller measure also visual arts. It developed the collector´s activity with aim of preservation of cultural and historic history of Slovakia and of Slovaks up to prohibition of its activity in 1875.

In the second half of 19th century successively first associational, urban and regional museums arose. Already in 1846 Imrich Henszlmann comes with an idea of need of public museum in Košice; however, the Bratislava Beautifying Association outstripped its accomplishment. On his initiative City Museum in Bratislava arises like the first museum on the territory of Slovakia in 1868.  Till shortly after this in 1872 the Upper Hungarian Museum Association accomplished one quarter of the century old idea in Košice. Henszlmann alone left after his death to the museum his collections of which part, among other things, over 3 000 pieces of visual art works. Successively the museums in Kremnica 1872 – 1901, Levoča 1884, Bardejov 1904-05 have been founded. Artistic historians, conservationists and active visual artists directed the collector´s programme towards art in some institutes in position of custodians of collections (Vojtech Klimkovič with Viktor Myszkovsky in Košice, Viktor Myskovszky later also in Bardejov, Kornel Divald in Banská Bystrica).

Founding the Museum Slovak Society (MSS) was culmination of activity of our museology at the end of 19th century that came into being in Martin on 24/04/1893 and it began its activity on 22/08/1895. Andrej Kmeť has been its first chairman. This event reupdated an idea of Central National Museum in Martin and of its activity particularly in the field of ethnography and folk visual art expression. The MSS had in its statutes a paragraph in which also focusing for collection of visual arts is mentioned. The visual art collection incurred from gifts has been exhibited for the first time in new museum building opened in 1909.

Also situation for rise of public artistic collection, of art gallery used to mature successively. After 1918 it has been possible to consider really a solution of this problem, however, preliminarily only in connection with museum institution. The Slovak National Gallery arose within the Slovak National Museum in Martin as a part of its generous new building in 1993. 10 rooms with top lighting have been earmarked for it, altogether 413 m2, gifts also purchase of works were carried-out. The exposition has been a selection of Slovak art since the period of Slovak Revival (Bohúň, Kleme and other) up to creation of founder´s figures of Slovak modern art  (Benka, Bazovský, Galanda, Fulla and other), however, without clear conception and continuity to older traditions of domestic  creation. It was only a modest demonstration of creative potency and artistic results and it did not fulfil a role of informer of Slovak visual art of the past and in the present day. In addition the private associational institution with limited economical possibilities could not rely on technical background (art historians, restorers, specialized workshops) enabling research, exhibition activity and regular completion of collections. But already the idea itself of the “Slovak National Gallery” was a good beginning and challenge to continue at higher level.

The picture gallery had in its programme ambitions to grow through into a separate artistic and collector´s nationwide institution, even two purchases of works of art were carried out for being prepared separate gallery. Finally it remained only a part of the Slovak National Museum in Martin. In 1950 the exposition has been dismounted and the gallery was changed into an exhibition hall. For the then times its rise has been a significant step, dignified to transitory stages of implementation of Central National Gallery in spite also of certain restrictions (linking-up onto museum, spatial and economical possibilities, insufficient  specialized background)  and from this resulting stagnation.

A grandiosely organized exhibition “Old art in Slovakia” in conception of Karel Šourek, arranged in Prague in Vladislav´s hall in 1937, has been a further important and relevant deed in this period. The exhibition brought new incentives in knowing the last and in time of rising political tension it became not only a domestic but also an international experience. On concrete works across the centuries the exhibition creators presented multilateral artistic potency of Slovak environment, material richness of visual art heritage and continuity of development from prehistory up to the present day. The exhibition pointed out the thing that the Slovak environment is prepared and mature to fill up the idea of creating of a specialized central gallery´s institution which will be able to interpret a notion of Slovak cultural heritage but also to secure protection, collection, research and exhibition presentation of our art of the past and the present day.

In equal year, undoubtedly also at the suggestion of revealing knowledge of the indicated exhibition, the DAV members worked out Plan of Economic, Social and Cultural Uplifting of Slovakia in which they state that “… for support of visual arts in Slovakia it is seen to us that the idea of representative state gallery is mature”.

In the twenties and thirties also an intensive exhibition activity went along in Bratislava. Art exhibitions were arranged in Artistic Community Centre above all but also in new-built building of Agricultural Museum. Already in 1928 the museum separated for exhibition purposes three halls which have been complying with each side, e.g. including also lighting. 82 exhibitions were carried-out in it up to 1938 of which 31 have been art exhibitions. Since 1940 the building became headquarters of Slovak Museum which arose in consequence of reorganization and of centralization of museum collections (by merging of Agricultural and Forestry Museum with the Museum of National History and Science). It concerned effort to create central Pan-Slovak museum collection also as a counterweight of Martin Slovak National Museum with its Slovak National Gallery.  

Within new-arisen Slovak museum on an associational basis existed Department III of Slovak Museum (historical/ archaeological and gallery´s divisions) that made accessible the Slovak Gallery in 1943. It functioned under the guidance of Dr. Ľudmila Kraskovská and in contrast to Martin collection it has been divided into the historic and modern parts. Except for own funds and purchases of former section of Department of Education and Enlightenment it concentrated also major part of state deposits of old and modern arts from times of the first republic deposited temporarily in the Slovak Museum of National History a Science for future state gallery. A count of 2 474 inventory numbers (including graphics) testifies to the range of artistic material. Conception of Bratislava Slovak Gallery was more approached to idea/image of complex gallery´s institution, although, its activities and development have been limited by similar facts as in Martin (bond onto organizational structure of museum, small perspectives of development, insufficient personal and technical background, insufficiency of financial means for purchase activity and so on). However, complicated period situation has been the main problem. The Slovak Gallery became finally not the base of permanent and regular exposition for the sake of war events. It was cancelled after long non-functioning and the works of art were transferred into safe premises of Bojnice castle and onto Červený Kameň.