The history of the National Gallery in Prague started to be written on 5 February 1796 when a group of significant representatives of the patriotically oriented Czech nobility along with several middle-class intellectuals from the ranks of Enlightenment movement decided (to put it in period terminology) to "elevate the deteriorated taste of the local public."
The corporation, which received the title Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts, then established two important institutions which Prague had, up until then, lacked: the Academy of Fine Arts and the publicly accessible Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts. The Picture Gallery became a direct predecessor of, what is today, the National Gallery in Prague. In 1902 the Picture Gallery was accompanied by yet another significant institution , the Modern Gallery of the Kingdom of Bohemia, as a private foundation of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The Modern Gallery then began to build its core collection of 20th century art.
In 1918 the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts turned into a central art collection of the new Czechoslovak state. In 1919, Vincenc Kramář was appointed the Gallery's director and, in a short time, succeeded to turn the institution into a relatively modern and a professionally run gallery. In the complicated war period, in 1942, the funds of the abolished Modern Gallery were transferred under the management of the National (or more officially, Czech-Moravian Land) Gallery. A 1949 law regarding the National Gallery then legally "sanctified" this situation.
The National Gallery in Prague was established by and its activity is based on Law No. 148/1949 Coll. on the National Gallery in Prague.
The original idea that has lasted since the establishment of the National Gallery has been present in all the complicated peripeties of the Gallery's development: to elevate the nation's spirit through works of art. This ideal is considered the mission of the National Gallery even today.
In concordance with Law No. 148/1949 Coll. on the National Gallery in Prague, the National Gallery collects, records, maintains (on a permanent basis), professionally processes and makes publicly accessible, art works of painting, sculpture and graphic art, as well as works from the genre of, what is known as, "new media" of both home and foreign origin and professionally researches them. It is a museum in the sense as written in the provision of § 10, par. 6 of Law No. 122/2000 Coll. regarding the protection of the nature of museum collections and the modification of several other laws.