The museum founders concentrated their attention on homeland-oriented antiquarian objects, so that the visual arts in the narrow sense were not represented to any great degree. However, there were already plans for a pinacotheca, in which the very sparse remains of the Baroque princely collections would be augmented by the provincial, late Biedermeier art scene of Salzburg.
The museum was almost entirely dependent on the middle class’s willingness to donate; they contributed to the growth of the collection above all through family portraits and also with some medieval treasure or other, saved from extinction. This modest radius of action was only disrupted after the post-1945 reconstruction years, with specific purchases of top-quality works. Now, hitherto unaffordable masters such as Makart and Faistauer began to find their way into the collection, seconded by painters like Ethofer and Schider, Harta and Jung, Schulz and Peiffer Watenphul, who represent Salzburg art of the mid-to-late nineteenth century (“Gründerzeit”) and Classical Modernism. A neglected special feature, the Sattler Panorama – and the related cosmoramas – was successfully placed in the limelight again when the Panorama Museum was opened in 2005. The Painting Collection had meanwhile grown so much that it seemed sensible to separate the earlier and later holdings (after 1800); since then, these have formed two individual sections.
Lacking in Salzburg was the presence of private collections and donor personalities, which had a negative effect even on a communal museum. The divestiture of inherited Salzburg art possessions after 1800 meant that little entered into museum ownership from this source, but rather through repurchases in recent times. This is why the bourgeois nineteenth century dominates over other eras in the holdings, with local luminaries in the vanguard, such as Pezolt, Stief, Fischbach and Mayburger. The trend-setting influence of the Salzburg native Hans Makart and the grandiose initiative of the artists’ group Der Wassermann (Aquarius) of 1919 passed the collections by practically without leaving a trace, but much ground has been made up here in recent decades. The genre of the Romantic landscape, so important for Salzburg, has also been improved. Another focus of the collection is that of Salzburg’s post-war Modernism, known as the heyday of the movement.
In an institute oriented on cultural history, the focus is directed more on the wide range of the collections rather than an elite artistic standard. As ever, the topographical, locally relevant aspect is an important criterion. Because of the considerable gaps in the holdings, attention is concentrated on making up for missing aspects; however, contemporary art production is included as far as possible.
Thanks to the surprising wealth and diversity of the holdings, exhibits from the museum can frequently be encountered in prominent positions on the exhibition scene – proof of a strategy that has faith in its own strengths, instead of giving in to the temptation of a trendy “best-of” approach. A wide range of themes can be covered by the museum’s own holdings. A long cherished aim and dream has been to have a specific gallery sampling Salzburg painting; as yet the facilities have been lacking.