The first State museum of national art opened in St.-Petersburg

19 March 1898

The idea to create in St.-Petersburg the museum of national Russian art had been discussed in noble milieu of the Russian society from the middle of 19th century but it was realized only in 1895 under the reign of Nicolai II, the son of Alexander III.

On April 13 (24), 1895 the Emperor Nicolai II issued the Personal Supreme decree ‘On establishment of the “Russian Museum of Emperor Alexander III” in Mikhaylovsky Palace acquired for the State including all its wings, services and garden’. The creation of the museum was entrusted to the great duke George Mikhaylovich.

The museum was organized with the aid of scholars, art historians, historians, ethnographers, archeologists, architects, such as: D. I. Tolstoy (assigned in 1901 the Manager of the Russian Museum), A. N. Benois, P. A. Brulov, P. I. Neradovsky, N. P. Sychev, P. I. Stolpyansky, M. P. Botkin, A. A. Miller, N. N. Punin and others.

On March 7 (19), 1898 the ‘Russian Museum of the Emperor Alexander III' was opened for visitors.

The first exposition presented to the public occupied 37 halls of the ground and first floors. Among enthusiastic reviews there also were some critical opinions regarding the unsystematic and overload character of the exposition.

The holdings of the museum at the time included 445 paintings, 111 works of sculpture, 981 graphic sheets, as well as 5.000 relics of the past forming the collection of Christian antiquities. The collections were formed on the basis of the artworks from Hermitage, Academy of Arts and Emperor palaces: Winter Palace, Alexander Palace, Gatchina and Tsarskoye Selo. Over 100 paintings came from the personal collection of Alexander III including the works of such artists as V. I. Surikov, V. D. Polenov, G. I. Semiradsky.

In 1902 under the Museum was opened an Ethnographical Department and in 1913 – of History and Everyday life. In 1934 the Ethnographical Department was transformed into an independent State Museum of Ethnography (today the Russian Ethnographical Museum). On the basis of the Department of History and Everyday life was created the Department of History of the Russian culture of Hermitage.

In 1912 the Museum was granted 28 paintings of the Russian artists, a collection of drawings and about 50 relics of the old-Russian art. During 1898-1917 the Museum holdings were developed owing to acquisitions and donations.

In order to house the growing collections in 1914-1916 to the building of Mikhaylovsky Palace was attached the Western building designed by the architect L. I. Benois.

After 1917 the Museum holdings were developed at the expense of the nationalized values of art. In 1934 was organized the Department of the Soviet Art and in 1937 – the Department of National Art.

Today the Russian museum holds the largest collection of the Russian visual arts in the world which numbers about 400 thousand works of all the essential trends and schools of the national visual arts from the 9th to 20th centuries.

In 1992 under the Decree of the President of the Russian Federation the Russian Museum was reckoned among the most valuable objects of cultural heritage of the peoples of Russia.


Lit.: Алянский Ю. Л. Рассказы о Русском музее. Л., 1988; Государственный Русский музей. Из истории музея: Сб. статей и публикаций / Сост. И. Н. Карасик, Е. Н. Петрова. СПб., 1995; История создания музея [Электронный ресурс] // Русский музей. Б. д. URL:; Петров Г. Ф. Идём по Русскому музею. Л., 1982.


Based on the Presidential Library’s materials:

Военский К. А. Русский музей императора Александра III. СПб., 1898;

Информационные технологии и общество: Виртуальный филиал Государственного Русского музея // Новости. 6 февраля 2010 г. ;

Полное собрание законов Российской империи: Собр. 3-е. СПб., 1881-1913. Т. 15 (1895). № 11532. С. 189.