The cornerstone of the state art collection was laid at the beginning of the 19th century, when plaster copies of antique sculptures were purchased for the Higher School of Drawing. The Bernische Kunstgesellschaft, founded in 1813, was begun with a collection consisting mainly of watercolours and drawings. Both collections have been housed under one roof since 1849. With the bequest of his whole fortune, the architect Gottlieb Hebler (1817-1875) was instrumental in the building by Eugen Stettler becoming a reality. Construction lasted from the spring of 1876 until autumn 1878. The opening took place on the 9th of August, 1879. The first extension (Indermühle/Salvisberg) was added to the east-facing side of the Stettler building between 1932 and 1936. However, in the 1980s, most of this eastern annex had to make way for further expansion construction (Atelier 5). (On the side facing the street, only the wall with the Sgraffito decorations by Cuno Amiet has survived.) The opening of the second (and so far the final) extension took place in 1983.
In November 1999, after more than four years of blueprints and project planning and more than one and a half years of construction, the restoration and rebuilding work on the Stettler building was finished. This represents the final stage – so far – of the renovation and extension work on the Museum of Fine Arts Bern.