Established in 1930 after the passing of the National Art Galley and Dominion Museum Act 1930.
Officially opened in the Buckle Street building in 1936, the National Art Gallery occupied the first floor of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum building. Eru D. Gore was secretary-manager from 1936 until his death in 1948 when S. B. Maclennan was appointed the first director. This was the first appointment in New Zealand of a full-time art gallery director.
Previous to the establishment of the National Art Gallery, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts (formerly the Fine Arts Society of New Zealand), managed a national art collection acquired, in part, with government funding. In 1930 the academy sold its own gallery and devoted the proceeds of the sale, its art collection and its building fund to the National Art Gallery in return for offices and galleries in perpetuity in the new building. The national collection also included art works from the Dominion Museum and other collections gifted to the nation. The Buckle Street building housed the Academy of Fine Arts from 1936 to 1997 with a gap of 7 years during World War II when it was taken over by the military.
While the Dominion Museum (later called the National Museum) and National Art Gallery had shared the Buckle Street building since 1936, the two remained separate entities until the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992 incorporated the two.
The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa), which incorporated the art gallery and museum, moved out of Buckle Street in 1996. Their new waterfront home opened on 14 February 1998.