The National Museum of Western Art was established in April 1959 and was based on the Matsukata Collection focusing on the Impressionist paintings and Auguste Rodin's sculptures previously stored by the French government. The museum's purpose is to provide the public with opportunities to appreciate western art. Since its opening, the museum, as Japan's only national institution devoted to western art, has been involved in exhibitions, art work and document acquisition, research, restoration and conservation, education and the publication of materials related to western art.
The museum exhibits works from the Matsukata Collection as well as works created from the Renaissance to the early 20th century that have been acquired since the museum's opening. The museum has purchased art work every year since its establishment in its efforts to build and develop its permanent collection. These permanent collection works are displayed in the Main Building (Le Corbusier, 1959) and New Wing (MAEKAWA Kunio, 1979) throughout the year.=20
The museum is involved in the development and organization of a special exhibition every year. These exhibitions feature works on loan from private collections and museums both in and out of Japan. The museum also co-sponsors exhibitions organized jointly with outside organizations, including major newspapers, that are held held twice a year. Special exhibitions are displayed in the Exhibition Galleries completed in 1997.
In April 2001, Japan's national art museums became independent administrative corporations. Thus, the National Museum of Western Art is now under the umbrella organization known as the Independent Administrative Institution National Museum of Art.