The Tambov Regional Art Gallery was opened for viewers on April 30, 1961. However, the museum collections in Tambov have longstanding traditions. The first museum in Tambov was founded in 1879 in honour of the 100th anniversary of governor-general institution in the region.
The first Tambov museum didn't have its own premises. Five years later (in 1884) the regional scientific archives commission was founded on the initiative of N.V.Kalachov (1819 -1885). It was founded among the first four ones (in the towns of Orel, Tambov, Ryasan and Tver) and it didn't have its own place either. It was decided to locate those two organizations in one place. In the State Archives of the Tambov region there is a document called "Historic Document on the Premises of the Tambov scientific Archives Commission" (1914), where it is written that the Committee of the Tambov Public library decided to build the third floor in the building of the Public library for the Historical Archives, the Archive Commission, the library and the museum to be placed there. The Historical Archives and the museum were opened on July 17, 1887.
Two years later "The List of Items Kept in the Tambov Historical Museum, Compiled by the Manager of the Archives Commission P.Dyakonov" (Tambov, 1889) was published. It was the first catalogue of the museum. Some pieces of the Russian and European art endowed to the museum by individuals were mentioned in it. For example, a portrait of V.Vasilevsky painted in oil under empress Anna Ioanovna by Vasilevsky himself, who was one of the first peaple sent by Peter the Great to Europe for studying art. The portrait was endowed by S.I.Gargiegauzen. In the same list number 151 is an oil painting "Knights at the Castle" by Perezinotti, endowed by N.N.Yaroshevsky. A.D.Perezinotti (1708 - 1778) was an Italian decorator, an academician of the Russian Academy of Arts.
The next important step in the development of the Tambov public collection was connected with the construction of the building for the Public Reading Society (1891 - 1892). The expenses relating to the construction were paid by the well-known philantropist E.D.Naryshkin (1813 - 1901), "a friend of Tambov poverty" as he was called by contemporaries. Even now the building is known as the Naryshkin's library. The museum was moved into the building in summer of 1893.
Among the displays of that period it is interesting to mention a marble relief "Madonna with Godson" endowed to the art department of the Naryshkin's library by a traveller and historian of art A.V.Vysheslavtsev (1831 - 1888) born in the Tambov region. The relief was traditionally considered a work of the genious Donatello. And the name of the real author of the great imitation was identified only in the 70s of the 20th century.
After the October revolution the Regional Art Museum was founded in Tambov. In the report of manager of the Tambov department of museums and art monuments, relics and nature preservation of March 20, 1922 it was said that Folk and Art Museums worked in Tambov. Approximate number of people visiting the Art Museum in 1921 was 1050 people. In August, 1922 the Folk Museum was called the Scientific one and the Art Museum was included into the Scientific Museum as a department.
The Regional Art Museum was supplemented with pieces of arts nationalized in country aristocracy estates. The most interseting items were got from the estates of Znamenskoye (P.S.Stroganov's collection), Vorontsovka (A.K.Boldyrev and Vorontsovs' collection), Karaul (B.N.Chicherin's collection) and from the estate of Mara (Boratynskys' collection). The art items from those estates formed the main body of the contemporary collection of the Regional Art Gallery. By this means the Gallery got works of the Russian artists D.Levitsky, V.Borovikovsky, K.Bryulov, V.Tropinin, V.Serov, etc., the Italian artists Ya.Palma Jn., F.Solimena, the French artists J.Fragonard, A.Deverias, the Dutch artists M.Mirevelt, F.Bol, etc.
During the first years of the Soviet period the Tambov region was visited by members of the Museum board of the People's Commissariat of Education, including A.V.Lebedev (1888 - 1944), who took a considerable part in studying of F.Rokotov's works in Tambov region. Some portraits painted by Rokotov are exhibited in the Tambov Art Gallery.
In 1929 - 1930 the Tambov Scientific and Art Museum was transformed into the Museum of Regional Studies and moved into the building of the Savior and Transfiguration Cathedral (the Pitirimovsky Cathedral). Only thirty years later the art department was singled out of the museum and the Tambov Regional Art Gallery was founded. The main part of the displays were moved into the gallery. The departments of the Russian (pre- and post-revolutionary) art and the European art were founded. These departments have been working up to nowadays.
Lately the gallery funds have been stocked with the pieces of arts bought by the All-Union and Russian Ministries of Culture, the regional department of culture or by the gallery. The items endowed to the gallery are rather rare now. Now the gallery keeps about 5 thousand pieces of arts.