In 1966, on the occasion of its 125th anniversary and under the administration of Georgios Mavros, the National Bank of Greece decided to create a cultural foundation to support the Humanities, Fine Arts and Sciences in Greece and Greek communities abroad.
The Foundation, fulfilling its educational role as prescribed by its articles of association, began to purchase works of art, with the aim of creating a Painting and Sculpture Gallery that would represent current trends in Greek art. In June 1975, the Foundation presented its newly acquired collection at the Society for Macedonian Studies in Thessaloniki. The collection, which then numbered 85 works, of sculpture, painting, pottery and mosaic, by 78 Greek artists, was the fruit of the successful co-operation between E.Ch. Kasdaglis, Director of the Foundation (1966-1998), and Pandelis Prevelakis, writer and Professor of Art History at the Athens School of Fine Arts, and General Secretary of the Foundation's Board of Directors (1974-1979).
The artworks were housed at the Society for Macedonian Studies until the end of 1988. Some of them were exhibited in the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair area, in 1987, as part of the 22nd Dimitria Festival, and in the Athens National Art Gallery in 1998, in an exhibition entitled "Contemporary Greek Art, Review of a Collection (1975-1987)".
When restoration of the Villa Kapantzis, formerly home to the Fifth Boys High School of Thessaloniki, was completed in early 1989, the collection was housed there for over ten years. The Cultural Centre of Northern Greece, established in this building, was inaugurated with an exhibition of approximately sixty works of art, displayed on both floors, between January 1989 and May 1990.
Many additions were made to the collection between 1975 and 1988, almost trebling its size, as is evident from the joint publication by the National Bank and the Cultural Centre of Northern Greece, entitled The Art Collection of the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece (Thessaloniki 1990). This album presents 172 Greek artists and 224 of their works, with comments and a detailed and informative introduction by art historian Matoula Skaltsa, associate professor at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She summarizes the rationale behind the formation of the collection as follows:
"Even though the way in which such a collection was formed cannot aim to represent landmarks in Greek art history, thanks to the relatively rich sample, the knowledge and the flair of the people in charge, a collection of remarkable quality has been assembled, which illustrates adequately many points in the course of Greek art.
Starting with sculpture, which is represented by the smallest sample, noteworthy are the superb works by important Greek masters, such as Apartis, Zongolopoulos, Kalamaras, Capralos, Loukopoulos, Pappas, Sklavos and Tombros, as well as by artists who gave impetus to the direction of modern achievements, such as Apergis, Vernardaki, Voyatzoglou, Georgiadis, Kalakalas, Makris, Xenakis, Spiteri and Chrysochoidou, and young artists whose works create contemporary Greek sculpture, such as Armakolas, Dikephalos, Lambrou, Papayannis, etc.
With regard to painting, given that the collection was created in the mid-1960s and does not aspire to composing a panorama of the history of Greek art before that decade, there are very few works from the preceding period. There are more paintings from the 1960s and many from the 1970s, representing some of the visual trends in that decade. Several paintings by young artists represent the current decade."
The collection has been enriched with 77 watercolours of old Athens, by Sophie Kephala, donated by the artist, as well as with works by Aglaia Pappa, Alexandros Isaris, Yannis Pappas, Dimosthenis Kokkinidis, Pepi Svoronou, Michalis Manoussakis and others.
Although the prints are an integral and complementary part of the Foundation's Art Gallery, they could form an independent second collection. This collection numbers approximately 550 works by well-known painters-printmakers, starting from the pioneers of this genre in Greece, such as Galanis, Koyevinas, Theodoropoulos, Yannoukakis and Kefallinos, continuing with the students of the last, Varlamos, Tassos, Katraki, Grammatopoulos and others, up to contemporary artists, such as Drougas, Komianou, Tsaras, to name but a few. To complete this extempore classification, mention should be made of the prints by Vasiliou, Tetsis, Tsarouchis and Hadjikyriakos-Ghika. This relatively rich material has been included in a number of temporary exhibitions organized in several towns and cities, in Greece and Cyprus.