The National Museum of Fine Arts is located at the lower end of South Street (Valletta) within an area including other fine historical palaces dating from the time of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The area is also well known for its wine bars and cafés and offers little-known breathtaking views of the city’s grid-shaped streets which visitors usually explore on their way to the museum.
Set in a complementing historic building, the museum presents a multifaceted overview of art and artistic expression in Malta from the Late Medieval period to the contemporary. The building was originally one of the earliest to be built in Valletta and served as residence to successive knights of the Order of St John. It was later rebuilt during the 1760s by Fra Ramon de Sousa y Silva, a wealthy Portuguese knight of the Order of St John, and adopted as his private residence. During the early nineteenth century the palace was home to Louis-Charles of Orleans, Comte de Beaujolais during his brief stay on the island followed shortly by his demise. By the 1820′s the palace became known as Admiralty House and was the seat of the Commander-in Chief of the British Mediterranean Fleet. It also hosted high-ranking personalities both as residents and guests. These include Lord Mountbatten of Burma, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George V and Queen Elizabeth of Britain.
The palace was officially inaugurated as the National Museum of Fine Arts in 1974 and has since then been Malta’s most important museum for the arts. Highlights from the collection on display include paintings by leading local and internationally acclaimed artists, precious Maltese silverware, statuary in marble bronze and wood, fine furniture items and splendid maiolica pieces. The collection also includes works by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Jusepe Ribera (1591-1652) and Guido Reni (1575-1642). The large piano nobile halls house works of art from the Early Renaissance to the High Baroque with a focus on the corpus of works by the Italian Baroque painter Mattia Preti. This is the biggest corpus of works by Mattia Preti on display in any public museum.