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For a century after its foundation in 1692, the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna did not possess a proper collection of paintings - which was not unusual for contemporary European art schools. This, however, was changed by the generous donation of Count Lamberg-Sprinzenstein, who in 1822 bequeathed his famous collection of about 800 paintings to the imperial Academy.

In his last will, the founder put special emphasis on his wish that his collection be opened to the general public, and that a catalog of the paintings be published. Thus, the "Gräflich Lamberg'sche Gemähldegalerie an der Akademie der schönen bildenden Künste" (Count Lamberg's Paintings Gallery at the Academy of Fine Arts) became the first art museum in Vienna that was part of a public institution. At the same time, the collection was to be made accessible to art students, and was also to be used for teaching purposes. Gradually, it became an important element of academic artistic education - still in the 1970s, painters had to copy the paintings in the collection as part of their syllabus.

In 1877, the Academy, including all its collections, was moved to the elegant new building, designed by Theophil Hansen, on Schillerplatz, close to Viennese Ringstraße. New paintings were added to the collection in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, and these generous donations, both public and private, significantly increased the number of paintings to approximately 1,600 today.

In view of the developments of contemporary art, in the course of which the art of the old masters lost its original relevance also at the Viennese Academy, in the late 20th century the focus shifted anew to the quality and international standing of Lamberg's first-class collection.

As it is one of three significant collections of old master paintings in Vienna today, the main task of the Academy now is the public presentation of its paintings - both in its permanent display and in exhibitions -, to research the collection in detail, and to publish the results in the museum's catalog. However, as a consequence of its historical development, and owing to the last will of its founder Lamberg, the collection is still an integral part of the Academy of Fine Arts, both by statute and in its organization, as one of its tasks is to support teaching. Thus, the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna is the only traditional one that houses both old and contemporary/new art. It is therefore impossible to imagine either the profile of the contemporary Academy or the Paintings Gallery without each other, as they share a history that has been mutually enriching.