Within centuries, collections of overregional meaning were created in Szczecin for several times. However, majority of them were dispersed due to political and military disasters. Only few artworks have remained in Szczecin and today belong to the collection of the Museum. Nevertheless, memory of former collections largely defines contemporary directions of the National Museum in Szczecin activities.
The tradition of collecting works of art in Szczecin dates back as far as to the 16th century. Phillip II, who ruled in first decades of the 17th century, a great humanist and expert, was widely known keen collector of art, broadly educated, among others, during his travels to Copenhagen, Wolffenbüttel and – for nearly two years – to Italy. During his reign, the most important arworks – both collected by his predecessors and his own purchases – became a basis for a Kunstkammer in Szczecin castle, placed in a special wing of principal residence built in 1616-1619 (nowadays the Mint Wing of Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle Szczecin). The program of the Kunstkammer had been created in 1615 by a famous German humanist Phillip Hainhoffer of Augsburg, who since 1610 supported the duke with advise at artworks purchases and artistic commissions, influencing the ruler’s collecting policy. After the dynasty of Griffins had come to the end, the collection was, however, dispersed.
In the 19th century, when Szczecin entered the path of rapid development, which led it out of the role of a sleepy Prussian garrison town and rose it to the rank of German second port, the collecting landscape of the city was determined by meaningful patrician families, including the Stoltings, the Dohrns, the Kasels and others. The process of creating public collection and the museum institution finally began in the second half of the 19th century. In 1878 a City Museum was established. It included, among others, City Painting Gallery (Städtische Bildergalerie), City Graphics Collection (Städtische Kupferstichsammlung), Collection of Antique Bronze (Antike Bronzesammlung). The City Museum (Museum der Stadt Stettin), created by merging the city collections, in 1913 obtained a new seat in a new building, designed by Wilhelm Meyer-Schwartau, at today’s Wały Chrobrego. Thanks to patricians’ donations and to the activities of the Museum’s first director, Walter Riezler, a large collection including ancient art, modern painting and natural specimens was created. Second museum institution – Pomerania State Museum (Pommersches Landesmuseum) – was placed in a baroque former Landed Gentry House between the wars.
The fate of pre-war museums fulfilled at the end of the second world war. Although the museum buildings escaped large damage during allied air raids, the collection was dispersed in a large degree. Part of the collection of former City Museum went to Western Germany, becoming a basis for the collection of Pomeranian Foundation in Kiel (Stiftung Pommern, Kiel), presented in western wing of a castle, nowadays displayed in Pomeranian State Museum in Greifswald (Pommersches Landesmuseum, Greifswald).
Created on August 1st 1945, Polish City Museum in Szczecin took over the remains of former German museums' collections, in subsequent years enriched with new acquisitions. In the Autumn 1947 the Museum became a district unit and as the Museum of Western Pomerania it took charge of other Western-Pomeranian museums. In 1970, owing to its prestige and nationwide importance of its collection, it obtained the rank of the National Museum. In 1970s the National Museum gained two new buildings: the Old City Hall (The Szczecin’s History Museum, Branch of the National Museum in Szczecin) and former Szczecin stronghold garrison headquarters, nowadays the Contemporary Art Museum, Branch of the National Museum in Szczecin.
Presently, The National Museum in Szczecin is the greatest cultural institution in Western-Pomeranian Voivodeship – a classical multi-department museum housing over 150 thousand exhibitis, including old and contemporary artworks, archaeological, maritime and ethnographical relics, as well, as precious numismatics. The Szczecin’s Museum has the largest collection of non-European material culture relics (Africa, America, Oceania) in Poland. The Museum, focusing mainly on Pomerania and the Baltic Sea, co-creates regional and national identity of Western Pomerania.