The National Gallery of Zimbabwe has existed for more than 66 years and, in its lifetime, has witnessed a dramatic shift in the
country from colonialism to independence. In addition, it has been central to the meteoric rise of Zimbabwean artists in
market. The gallery was initially planned in the 1930s, but the outbreak of the Second World War impeded the
in its progress.
The passing of the National Gallery Act of Parliament in early 1953 saw the
dissolution of the inaugural board and the establishment of the board of trustees. Major (later Sir) Stephen
chairman until 1962. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the gallery right from its inception and remained so even
he departed from the board when he and his wife became the first patrons of the gallery.
An architectural competition was
launched for the design of the building. Two Johannesburg architects trained
at the Royal Institute of British Architecture,
London, assessed this. The competition was open solely to
architects registered and usually resident in the Federation of
Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The winners of the
architecture competition were Messrs Montgomerie and Oldfield, whose design
was put , into construction in 1955.
It was pertinent to the design of the building to have the guidance of an experienced gallery
thus necessitating the appointment of such a person as soon as possible.
The Rhodes National Gallery was
opened to the public on
16th July 1957 by Her Majesty, the Queen Mother. In her opening address, she stated, "I trust that
this centre of
art, with you continued support and care, will radiate an influence which will enrich the lives of all who
Rhodesia".5 The inaugural exhibition was an enormous undertaking involving the loan of many art objects
the world, with most of the work coming from some of the world's most prestigious galleries and museums.
In the 1970s, the
Bulawayo community began their efforts to establish a gallery there. Although many Bulawayo
the annual exhibitions, they felt isolated from the gallery's activities in Salisbury. In 1969 they
formed the Rhodesia
Society of Artists, with one of their intentions being to establish a gallery in Bulawayo.
Senator Joseph Strong, who was critical
of the direction in which McEwen was leading the Rhodes National Gallery,
became a staunch supporter of the
Bulawayo initiative. The inaugural exhibition took place in December 1970 with a
loan of 'old master' works from Salisbury
and paintings from the South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
A new National Gallery Act was
promulgated in 1972, with the Rhodes National Gallery being renamed the National
Gallery of Rhodesia.
Bulawayo Gallery now officially became part of the National Gallery and was governed by the
same board of trustees, two members of which were to represent Bulawayo. The old Bulawayo board became the
of the Bulawayo Gallery and set up the first purchase fund for that gallery.
In 1980, Zimbabwe gained independence.
This had a profound and immediate effect on the work of the gallery.
The entire country anticipated the lifting of sanctions and
the change of government. Gallery programming and
leadership changed to focusing more on international engagement.
its branches in Bulawayo and Mutare, the National Gallery of Zimbabwe continues to promote the best of
Zimbabwean Art while welcoming travelling international exhibitions.In its history, the gallery has been central
growth of contemporary art in the country and looks to the future with pride in its achievements and
determination to maintain
its high standards and continued growth.