The Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts is one of the oldest fine arts collections in St. Petersburg. It was founded in 1758 in the reign of Empress Elizabeth to provide young artists with a possibility to learn from the best works of art. I.I. Shuvalov, the initiator and first curator of the Academy (established in 1757), presented as a gift his private collection of paintings including canvases by Raphael, Veronese, Rubens and other masters that became a core of the Museum collection.
Later, many members of the Royal family regularly enriched the collection. Catherine the Great donated cartoons for monumental frescos of the Vatican Library made by A. Mengs, noted artist of the 18th century and a big collection of models of antique architectural monuments executed by A. Keekee in the 18th century. Emperor Nicholas I purchased for the Academy large copies from Raphael’s frescos in the Vatican as well as copies from the Italian Renaissance masters’ paintings made by renowned artists such as K. Bryullov and F. Bruni. Being the President of the Academy Great Duchess Maria also contributed to the Museum collection by a number of canvases and a unique drawing by D. Bossi – copy of the “Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.
Count N. Kushelev-Besborodko’s collection, which he bequeathed to the Academy in 1862, was one of the most remarkable acquisitions of the Museum that contained 466 paintings and 29 sculptures by European and Russian masters including Peter Bruegel the Elder’s “Adoration of the Magi”, “The King is Drinking” by J. Jordans, “Christ in the Crown of Thorns” by Peter Paul Rubens, as well as paintings by the famous French artists Delacroix, Millet, Corrot, Rousseau and others.
The Museum received a lot of gifts from artists. The French sculptor E. Falconet, who was commissioned to design a statue to Peter the Great in St. Petersburg, donated to the Museum some of his sculptures and many casts and works of French masters. More than 160 drawings were donated to the Academy by L. de Lorren, 190 drawings were a gift from L. Lagrenet.
Due to the significance of the Academy emphasized by the Russian emperors it was an honor to be elected its honorary member. Each new elected member had to present his portrait to the Academy. As a result, the Museum houses a big portrait gallery of the Academy’s presidents and honorary members from the 18th century. Among its first honorary members were Grand Duke Paul (Petrovitch), Count A. Stroganov – President of the Academy in 1800-1811; Count G. Orlov; Count A. Shuvalov, Count N. Panin, Duke A. Golitsyn.
The present Museum exposition, occupying three floors of the concentric building, begins in the hall of casts. Nearly 3000 exhibits are located on the first floor as well as in the main rooms of the Academy. Lobbies, halls, galleries, staircases of the building serve as an exhibition space for paintings, replicas of antique sculptures, reliefs, Roman vases and other works of art, thus creating a remarkable atmosphere of submergence in arts.
The collection of sculptures gives an opportunity to trace the history of sculpture from ancient Egypt to the 18th century. Containing casts of original antique and Western-European sculptures made in the late 18th - early 19th centuries, it can not be rivaled by any other collection of sculptures in Russia. On display are works of L. Bernini, B. Torwaldsen, A. Moderatti and other artists.