Created by Law 3.932 of December 12, 1911, with the name of “Museo de Bellas Artes”, now called National Museum of Visual Arts, has come a long way marked by the transformations of the building that, almost 100 years after its creation, ended up turning it into the most important art museum in the country. Little remains today of the primitive premises in which a collection of just 234 pieces was kept, most of them foreign.
The brand-new Museum began to operate in the left wing of the Solis Theater, but the following year it was assigned a new headquarters and began to occupy a pavilion built in the late nineteenth century to host a Hygiene Exhibition, in the same place it currently occupies in the Parque Rodó in Montevideo. From that modest warehouse in which it was installed in its beginnings until today’s reality, there were numerous and insufficient reforms of the building, some of which kept it closed for a long time, for example, in a lapse of almost eleven years (1952-1962).
Despite the reforms, the shortcomings of the premises could not be concealed. For decades, according to the different periods to which the researcher refers, it is possible to find journalistic information that speaks of “overcrowding of paintings installed in highly inflammable places, since the partitions that separate the rooms are made of wood…” . In another moment it will be remembered that “the conservation of the works becomes extremely difficult due to the lack of an adequate deposit”. It will be stressed that “the works are piled up in disorder and humidity”. Or that “leaks from the ceiling and humidity (…) threaten to detach the walls”. A special concern was even shown for the state of “pieces of great value, such as the large paintings by Blanes”. And it was even pointed out that insoluble thermal problems forced the Museum to close during the summer months. Hence the need to move it to a more suitable location was an almost permanent issue for many years.
Finally, the substantial reform that began in the 1970s gave the Museum a decisive new impetus. The name of Clorindo Testa, artist and architect, responsible for the last great transformation, was linked to this fundamental step, in the same way that in the nineties Leandro Silva Delgado, an Uruguayan landscape architect who taught in Spain, joined in creating the garden in front of the building, the first conceived by him as such in our country. Thanks to his work, the vacant lot that the neighbors had used for many years for sports, particularly football, was substantially transformed.
The impulse of the great temporary exhibitions, a new policy that, however, was already practiced in the most important museums in the world, also born in the seventies -and that continues with great rhythm until today- managed to awaken an unusual interest of the Montevidean public due, among other things, to the value of the artists that were presented, and to the fact that spaces conceived according to the most modern requirements of museology were achieved. Among the retrospectives dedicated to national artists, it is worth mentioning, simply as examples, those of Joaquín Torres García, Rafael Barradas, Carlos González, Leandro Silva Delgado, Antonio Frasconi, José Gurvich, and Amalia Nieto.