The Royal Palace in Bucharest has had a chequered history. In 1837, the Wallachian Prince Alexandru Ghica moved his official residence to the mansion in the palace’s current location which, following the Union of Moldavia and Wallachia, became a ceremonial palace and royal residence in Bucharest. Between 1882 and 1906, King Carol I enlarged and redecorated the palace and it became the winter residence of the Royal Court.
In the 20th century, part of the palace was damaged in a fire and was rebuilt and there was further damage from air raids in the Second World War. Following the communist takeover, the palace, including the art museum which had been established in 1946, was nationalised with the creation of a Romanian art gallery and an European art gallery, followed by rebuilding to create new galleries.
After the revolution of December 1989, the art museum was allocated the whole palace and a programme of building works was completed in 2013.
Based on the original royal collections, the Museum has a good representation of German, Italian, Spanish, French and Dutch art in modern well-presented rooms and there are reminders of the architecture of the former royal palace in some of the spaces, which adds to the experience, especially the final staircase in the European part.
A short distance away, another part of the National Museum of Romania, the Museum of Art Collections in located in the former Romanit Palace, dating from 1822. It is an interesting way to show over 40 personal collections donated to the state by artists, collectors and their descendants. which also responds to the highly cellular nature of the building around a central corridor where spaces do not flow one into another as they would in a new purpose-built art gallery. While the focus is very much on 20th century Romanian art, the collections include a wide variety of art from other eras and other countries, including a new brick-vaulted basement space showing stone carving from monasteries demolished in the 1970′s and 80′. A highlight is a collection of contemporary glass by the Japanese artist Shikudo Onda.
The information boards in the different rooms tell the story of the artists and collectors, some of whom were imprisoned during the communist regime and their collections confiscated. It is also fascinating to see the portraits and busts of both the artists and the collectors in the different collections.
Architecturally the galleries are rather bland with connections between some of the floors requiring the use of a map and guidance, and little of the original interiors remain apart from staircases and the vaulted area with the stone carvings. Perhaps future investment can address this, as has been done with the new galleries of stone carvings.