The collection of Sofia Art Gallery presents the Bulgarian art from the end of 19 c. to date. From the first academic artists before and after the Liberation, through the influences of the Impressionism, Symbolism and Secession, to the changes during the 1930s, the collection shows the beginning of secular art in the country in its entirety. The collections house works from the first years of the Socialist government after 1944, from the time of the cult of personality and the subsequent “détente“ in the beginning of the 1960s. The 1970s and 1980s are widely represented. In the last decade, the efforts of the team have been directed both towards the enrichment of the available collection and to the integration of the contemporary forms of art in the museum policy.
The collection started in 1929 by the first curator Kosta Valev. It began as a collection of works by Sofia artists or mostly of works dedicated to the city’s history and present. Today, this is only one of the directions. The collections of the museum continue to receive works which mark the changes in the city. Another tendency, which has persevered since the very beginning and has developed over the years, is the collection of portraits of representatives of the intelligentsia and public figures. In 2008, following a serious collection campaign, the gallery presented to the public its collection of self-portraits of artists, consisting of over 200 works.
Over the years, the completion of the collections has enjoyed different intensity. The establishment of the City Gallery as an independent institution in 1952 heightened the activity in this respect. The main source was the solo exhibitions, the group artistic exhibitions and the competitions whose subject was Sofia. The first one was announced in 1964, and the last one was organised in 1989. The most difficult was the period 1991-2007, in which the museum had no budget for preemptive purchases and relied only on donations.
The collection is divided into four departments: Painting, Sculpture, Graphics, and Contemporary Art and Photography. The latter is the newest one and was established in 2004 in response to the occurring changes in art and the artistic life.
The collection of SAG is representative of the development of the Bulgarian art from the end of 19 c. to date. It covers all periods, tends, styles and names. This is evidenced by the “Possible History” project, realised in 2012-2013. The research is based on the museum collection and is the first attempt to provide another viewpoint on the history of art after the changes in 1989.
The Contemporary Art and Photography department has existed since 2004. Up until 2014, the collection had received 235 works, the earliest of which dates from 1983: “Transplantation – The Glass Quay“ by Vasil Simitchiev, and the latest are from the ongoing programmes for young artists at the Vaska Emanouilova Gallery.
It aims to make the collection show the newest history of art in Bulgaria through significant artists and works. Some works were created on the occasion of basic, from the viewpoint of history, exhibitions such as “The City?“, 1988; "11.11.88", 1988; “N-forms”, 1994; “Ars Ex Natio. Made in Bulgaria”, 1997. The ambition of the collection is not only to cover historical periods and certain names, but also to reveal tendencies and common concerns. It contains a number of works dedicated to Sofia city and presented to the public in exhibitions on the same subject, such as “(Urban) Infernal Legends“ (2006) and “From Yesterday To Tomorrow. Monuments of Sofia“ (2009).
The collection includes paintings, drawings, videos, installations, digital art, objects, sculptures, etc. In 2013 the „Bulgarian Photography Today“ project was launched, due to which the gallery receives works of actively working contemporary photographs in the form of donations.
The works come in the Contemporary Art and Photography department through preemptive purchases and donations. Among the most significant donors are artists such as Boryana Rossa, Pravdolyub Ivanov, Lachezar Boyadzhiev, Sasho Stoitsov, Milko Pavlov, Nina Kovacheva and Valentin Stefanov, Nadezhda Oleg Lyahova, and Nedko Solakov. In 2014 the collection was supplemented with a large donation from the private collection of Gaudenz B. Ruf.
In 2014, the Contemporary Art and Photography department became also the owner of works by Christo and Jean-Claude.
The catalogue of the collection was published in 2011.