The museum's benefactors include King Gustav III and Carl Gustaf Tessin. The museum was founded in 1792 as Kungliga Museet ("Royal Museum"). The present building was opened in 1866, when it was renamed the Nationalmuseum, and used as one of the buildings to hold the 1866 General Industrial Exposition of Stockholm.
The current building, built between 1844 and 1866, was inspired by North Italian Renaissance architecture. It is the design of the German architect Friedrich August Stüler, who also designed the Neues Museum in Berlin. The relatively closed exterior, save for the central entrance, gives no hint of the spacious interior dominated by the huge flight of stairs leading up to the topmost galleries.
The museum was enlarged in 1961 to accommodate the museum workshops. The present restaurant was instated in 1996. The museum building closed for renovation in 2013 and reopened on 13 October 2018. The $132 million overhaul sought to put more of the museum’s collection on display and to match the security, accessibility, fire safety and climate control of a modern institution.
The museum collection consists of about half a million drawings from the Middle Ages to 1900, a prominent 17th-century collection of Rembrandt and other Dutch painters, and a collection of porcelain items, paintings, sculptures, and modern art as well. The museum also has an art library, open to the public and academics.
- Rembrandt, Simeon's song of praise
- Perugino, St. Sebastian
- Jacob Jordaens, The Holy family by candlelight
- Ludwig Refinger, Manlius Torquatus Fighting a Gaul.
- Marble busts in Room 1280, the Sculpture Courtyard.
- The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis by Rembrandt
- Midvinterblot by Carl Larsson
- Candaules Showing His Wife to Gyges by Jacob Jordaens
- Johan Mårtelius (1999). "Norra innerstaden". Guide till Stockholms arkitektur (2nd ed.). Stockholm: Arkitektur Förlag AB. p. 67. ISBN 91-86050-41-9.
- da Silva, Tali; Grönberg, Anna (21 March 2018). "Susanna Pettersson blir ny chef på Nationalmuseum" (in Swedish). SVT Nyheter. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
- Anderson, Christina (2018-10-12). "A Restoration Brings Sweden's Nationalmuseum Into the 21st Century". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-12-15.