The origins of the present day museum lie in the original Fine Arts Museum founded in 1908 and opened to the public in 1914, and in the Museum of Modern Art inaugurated in 1924. Both museums were definitively merged, with their respective collections, in 1945, when what is now the old building was constructed. The modern building was added in 1970 and in 2001 a major refit gave the museum its present profile. Over the last one hundred years, the museum has been moulded by local people, artists and authorities, with major acquisitions and donations of artworks adding gradually to the collection and providing the core for the museum's steady, uninterrupted growth.
Today, the outstanding Bilbao Fine Arts Museum collection has nearly 10.000 works, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper and the applied arts ranging in time from the 13th century to the present day. Besides many major early and Old Master works, it also has a broad sampling of modern and contemporary art, placing particular emphasis on paintings from the Spanish and Flemish schools, together with a major collection of works by Basque artists.
Must-see exhibits in the museum galleries include remarkable works by Bermejo, Gossaert, Benson, Mandijn, Vredeman de Vries, De Vos, Mor, Sánchez Coello, El Greco, Pourbus, Gentileschi, Ribera, Zurbarán, Van Dyck, Murillo, Arellano, Meléndez, Bellotto, Goya, Paret, Villaamil, Ribot, Zamacois, Madrazo, Gauguin, Cassatt, Sorolla, Guiard, Iturrino, Ensor, Regoyos, Romero de Torres, Zuloaga, Sunyer, Arteta, Gutiérrez Solana, Vázquez Díaz, Lipchitz, Delaunay, González, Gargallo, Bacon, Palazuelo, Oteiza, Appel, Chillida, Caro, Millares, Tàpies, Saura, Lüpertz, Kitaj, Blake, Arroyo and Barceló.