In the aftermath of the unification of Italy in 1870, the GNAM came to house a collection of ancient and modern art, becoming the centre for the best representations of the trends that were then in vogue, from realism to impressionism, from Macchiaioli to patriotic painting and symbolism.
There were real purchasing campaigns at the Venice Biennales and at the most important national exhibitions in order to build an itinerary that would create the artistic history of a united Italy.
Today the arrangement of the works in the 19th-century section still respects those choices and has its highest points in the “Ercole e Lica” group by Antonio Canova, in the “Voto” by Francesco Paolo Michetti, as well as in the battle scenes painted by Giovanni Fattori.
The famous painting of “The Three Ages of Woman” by Gustav Klimt represents the transition from the 19th-century paintings to the 20th-century ones, which were mostly acquired thanks to the enterprising management of Palma Bucarelli, who was head of the museum for 30 years starting in 1945.
To her we owe the constitution of the 20th-century collections, with Balla, Modigliani and Carrà, but above all the acquisitions of works by contemporary artists such as Fontana, Burri, Pascali and Pollock.