Imperial Academy of Arts  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Russian Academy of Arts, informally known as St Petersburg Academy of Arts, was opened by Count Ivan Shuvalov under the name of the Academy of Three Noblest Arts in 1757.

The academy had been allocated in Shuvalov's house at Sadovaya Street until 1764, when Catherine the Great renamed it into the Imperial Academy of Arts and commissioned its first rector, Alexander Kokorinov, to design a new building for the academy. It took 25 years to construct the Neoclassical edifice, which faces the Winter Palace from the other bank of the Neva River. Konstantin Thon was responsible for the sumptuous decoration of the interiors. He also designed a quayside in front of the edifice and adorned it with 3000-year-old sphinxes and griffins, which had to be brought from Egypt.

Ivan Betskoy reorganized the academy into a de-facto government department regulating art life in the country, distributing orders and awarding ranks to the artists. The academy vigorously promoted the principles of Neoclassicism by sending the most notable Russian painters abroad, in order to learn the ancient and Renaissance art of Italy and France. It also had its own sizable collection of choice artworks intended for study and copying.

In the mid-19th-century the Academism of training staff, much influenced by the doctrines of Dominique Ingres, was challenged by a younger generation of Russian artists who asserted their freedom to paint realistic subjects. This movement, now known as Peredvizhniki, with Ivan Kramskoi as its leader, publicly broke up with the Academy and started its own exhibitions, moved from town to town across Russia. Ilya Repin, Mikhail Vrubel and some other painters, however, still regarded the academy training as indispensable for development of basic professional skills.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the academy passed through a series of transformations. It was successively renamed Russian Academy of Arts in 1933, the Academy of Arts of the USSR in 1947, and back the Russian Academy of Arts in 1991. The current Russian Academy of Arts is headquartered in Moscow (since 1947). Now the historical building on the Neva river accommodates the Ilya Repin Saint Petersburg Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, but it is still informally known as the Saint Petersburg Academy of Arts.

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