Plan of the Residenzgalerie, Residenzmuseum by the official curator of the Land Salzburg Eduard Hütte, 1922. This plan reflects th proposals for a Residenzmuseum submitted in 1919.
The Residenzgalerie was opened in 1923. Founded in the time following immediately upon the end of the monarchy, it was intended to fulfil various functions: to replace the art collection of the prince-archbishops, which had been lost in the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars in the early 19th century, to serve as a collection for study purposes in the planned (but never realised) academy of art, and not least to boost tourism by offering another cultural attraction besides the Salzburg Festival.
It was one of the museum's peculiarities that, at its foundation, it did not own a single work of art; all the exhibits were on loan. By the time it was closed in 1938, the museum had acquired 30 works of art.
After being reopened on 3 August 1952, the Residenzgalerie's focus soon shifted to the collection of 16th to 19th-century paintings.
When the Land Salzburg set up the Rupertinum museum for 20th-century art in 1980, the Residenzgalerie Salzburg handed over its complete stock of 20th-century art, limiting its collection activities to works created in Europe between the 16th and the end of the 19th century.
The works purchased by the Residenzgalerie between 1956 and 1991 from the former Czernin Collection in Vienna constitute the most important stock of paintings owned by the Land Salzburg. These works were collected by Johann Rudolf Count Czernin between 1800 and his death in 1845. Czernin was born in Vienna in 1757. He studied law at the University of Salzburg - he was related to Archbishop Hieronymus Count Colloredo - but spent the greater part of his life in Vienna. His interest in art is demonstrated by the fact that he was President of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna from 1823 - 1827, and from 1824, was in charge of the imperial collections. Outstanding works in his collection, such as Vermeer's The Artist's Studio (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Titian's portrait of the Doge Andrea Gritti and Dürer's Portrait of a Clergyman (both in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) were sold prior to 1955.
The majority of the paintings currently on display in the Residenzgalerie Salzburg are owned by the Land Salzburg. The collection is supplemented by loans from Austrian museums and private owners. Among the private loans are 10 paintings from the Schönborn Buchheim Collection, which have complemented and enriched the museum's stock of Italian and Flemish paintings since 1956.
The Residenzgalerie's premises are in the east wing of the Salzburg Residenz building above the bel étage. The building dates back to about 1600, and the stucco work on the ceilings in the northern rooms was commissioned by Archbishop Franz Anton Prince Harrach, who used the rooms as audience chambers and drawing rooms. At the end of the 18th century, Archbishop Hieronymus Count Colloredo used this floor for the first time to display the archiepiscopal collection of paintings. This link with the history of Salzburg was one of the important factors which motivated the Land Salzburg to found the museum.