The National Museum of Fine Arts is located in the capital city of Valletta in a historic building at the lower end of South Street. The area is also well known for its cafes and wine bars with breathtaking views of the grid-shaped streets.
The building was originally one of the earliest to be built in Valletta and served as residence to successive knights of the Order of St John. It was later rebuilt during the 1760s by Fra Ramon de Sousa y Silva, a wealthy Portuguese knight of the Order of St John, and adopted as his private residence. During the early nineteenth century the palace was home to Louis-Charles of Orleans, Comte de Beaujolais during his brief stay on the island followed shortly by his demise. By the 1820′s the palace became known as Admiralty House and was the seat of the Commander-in Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet.
The palace was officially inaugurated as the National Museum of Fine Arts in 1974 and has since then been a Malta’s most important museum for the arts.
The museum houses the major part of the national collection of Malta. The collection began in 1923 when the first fine arts curator, Vincenzo Bonello, embarked on establishing a collection within what was then called the National Museum. Bonello acquired numerous works of excellent quality on the local art market, and in London and Italy. Most were purchased at a time when prices in the art market were still within reach of the museum’s modest budget. Public spirited individuals and organizations also left significant bequests.
Highlights from the collection on display include paintings by leading local and internationally acclaimed artists, precious Maltese silverware, statuary in marble, bronze and wood, fine furniture items and splendid maiolica pieces. The collection also includes works by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Jusepe Ribera (1591-1652) and Guido Reni (1575-1642). The large piano noble halls house works of art from the Early Renaissance to the High Baroque with a focus on the corpus of works by the Italian Baroque painter Mattia Preti. This is the biggest corpus of works by Mattia Preti on display in any public museum.
The museum is a popular venue for lectures and book presentations held from time to time in its baroque galleries. It also has an educational program that involves school children with treasure hunts and other hands-on activities. Another very popular event launched in 2009 is the Art & Wine @ South Street. It features contemporary artists in dialogue with works of art from the museum’s permanent display.