The Museum of Vilnius Academy of Arts was founded on 6 May 1994 by the decision of the Academy’s Senate following the reorganisation of the former methodology lab.
The Museum’s collections date back to the late 18th century when the architectural and art collections for educating students began to be accumulated after the establishment of the Department of Architecture and Drawing at Vilnius University in 1793. In 1797, following the opening of the Department of Painting, the departmental head Prof. Pranciškus Smuglevičius purchased works and plaster models, books on the basics of painting, copper engravings, portfolios of graphic illustrations and paintings from Warsaw. The sculpture collections began to be assembled in 1802 by André le Brun, professor at the Department of Sculpture. The Graphics Department began accumulating its collection in the early 19th century. In 1805, painter Jonas Rustemas purchased the first copper stamps in Warsaw. Later, Prof. Juozapas Saundersas brought in antique plaster castings and prints from Petersburg which had been donated by Adam Jerzy Czartoryski. The professor collected graphic works and graphic reproductions of famous artists. In 1832, following the closure of Vilnius University, the majority of these collections were handed over to the University of Kyiv.
A large number of the works of art, architecture and photo art are related to the creative legacy of the professors and students of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Stefan Batory University which existed during the inter-war period. These primarily include an extensive collection of photographs by photographer Jan Bułhak (kept in the Rare Prints Unit of VAA Library); the works of the professors and students of the Faculty of Fine Arts, among them painters Bronislovas Jamontas (Bronisław Jamontt), Leonas Kosmulskis (Leon Kosmulski), Mykolas Rouba (Michał Rouba), Levas Dobżyńskis (Lev Dobżyński), and Sofija Urbanavičiūtė; graphic artists Jerzis Hoppenas (Jerzy Hoppen), Vladas Drėma, and Kazimieras Idczakas; sculptor and painter Zbigniew Pronaszko’s design drawings for the monument dedicated to the poet Adam Mickiewicz; and the architectural drawings by Janusz Kłos. Their works are often loaned to other museums for various exhibitions centred around specific topics. The Museum’s collections also include the drawings, sculptures and paintings by the graduates of Kaunas School of Art, among them Domicėlė Tarabildienė, Petras Aleksandravičius, Antanas Gudaitis, Viktoras Petravičius, Marcė Katiliūtė, Viktoras Vizgirda, Fabijonas Šulcas, Antanas Tamošaitis, and Kazys Varnelis as well as the folk-art drawings created during summer internships. The original Japanese engravings which were acquired in the inter-war period for the Kaunas School of Art and which are kept at VAA Library constitute a unique part of the museum’s collections.
Following the closure of Stefan Batory University in Vilnius, the art collections were handed over to the Vilnius School of Art in December 1939. On 14 January 1941, the Art Council of the People’s Commissar of Education of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic granted a permission to establish an academic museum. Senior teacher and painter Antanas Tamošaitis was appointed as the first manager of the Museum’s collections. Many items that had belonged the Museum’s collections were already lost by that time. On 25 October 1948, painter Leonas Katinas was appointed as the head of the academic museum of Vilnius State Art Institute. From then onwards, the Museum was referred to as “a methodical room”. Due to a lack of space, the valuable old artworks were handed over to other Lithuanian museums in the post-war years.
The artistic section of the collection from the Soviet era is the most extensive and diverse one in terms of the forms and techniques of art. It mostly includes exhibits dating back to 1956, in particular drawings, paintings and graphic works. From an iconographic point of view, of particular value are the works of the classical painters Jonas Švažas, Vincentas Gečas, Vladas Karatajus, Algirdas Šiekštelė, Aloyzas Stasiulevičius and Vaclovas Gražėnas; graphic artists Stasys Krasauskas, Rimtautas Gibavičius, Antanas Kmieliauskas, Jonas Kuzminskis, Audrius Puipa and Algimantas Švėgžda; and poster artist Juozas Galkus.
The Museum’s holdings contain a substantial collection of the works of Lithuanian expatriate artists which were mostly donated or are stored on the basis of deposit rights. These include the installation artworks by Elena Gaputytė, paintings by Albertas Vesčiūnas, the collection of the graphic works of Lithuanian expatriate artists donated to Vilnius Academy of Arts by historian Dr. Povilas Reklaitis containing the works of Pranas Gailius, Kazys Janulis, Vytautas Kazimieras Jonynas, Vytautas Kasiulis, Žibuntas Mikšys, Antanas Mončys, Viktoras Petravičius, Telesforas Valius, and Romas Viesulas. An exhibition titled “The Graphic Works of Lithuanian Expatriate Artists (1941–1969)” were organised on the basis of this collection.
Regular additions to the Museum’s collections come from the graduates of the Academy who donate their works. The Museum received a large collection of contemporary artworks donated in 1999–1998 by famous Lithuanian artists including Valentinas Antanavičius, Bronius Bružas, Romas Dalinkevičius, Kostas Dereškevičius, Algirdas Dovydėnas, Danutė Jonkaitytė, Algimantas Jonas Kuras, Mindaugas Skudutis, Antanas Kmieliauskas, Gediminas Jokūbonis, Jūratė Stauskaitė, Giedrius Jonaitis, and Rimvydas Kepežinskas, among others. The Academy’s graduate, former teacher and Honorary Professor, Algimantas Švėgžda (1941–1996), donated a particularly extensive part of his artistic legacy to the Museum. Recent additions to the Museum’s holdings have included a substantial collection of the former professor of the Academy and graphic artist, Leonas Lagauskas, donated by his family; the early and late paintings of Vincas Kisarauskas donated or handed over on the basis of deposit rights by the artist’s family; the original sculptures of the Paris-based artist and former graduate of the Academy, Adomas Stanislovas Raudys – Samogitas; and unique drawings by the graphic artist Elvyra Kairiūkštytė.
Each year, the Museum’s collections are supplemented by the diploma works of undergraduate or graduate students. They are used as educational materials and reflect the contemporary art pedagogy, the formative years of the would-be artists as well as technological explorations. The Museum’s holdings are stored in newly refurbished modern storage facilities which can be accessed by the academic staff of the Academy, professional artists, art students, art critics or art restorers for historical art research, exhibitions or publications. The works contained in the Museum’s collections are also used for methodical work or as a basis for portable museum exhibitions. Since the Museum does not have permanent displays of its collections, the works held in the collections are presented in various thematic exhibitions.
As of the end of 2014, the Museum’s holdings included around 20,300 storage units of which the largest were the collections of drawings (around 8,500 items), graphic works (around 3,900 items), works of photography (around 1,650 items), paintings (around 2,100 items) design works (around 1,110 items) and architectural drawings (around 500 items). The Museum’s holdings also contain monumental artworks, textiles, ceramics, sculptures and video artworks.
In 2011, the Museum of Vilnius Academy of Arts became a member of the Association of Lithuanian Museums.
The Museum administers the spacious Exhibition Halls “Titanikas” owned by it.