The academy had been located in Shuvalov's palace on Sadovaya Street until 1764, when Catherine the Great renamed it 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 opposite 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 which supervised matters concerning art throughout the country, distributing orders and awarding ranks to 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 styles 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 in a Realistic style. The adherents of this movement became known as peredvizhniki and, led by Ivan Kramskoi, publicly broke with the Academy and started its own exhibitions which traveled from town to town across Russia. Ilya Repin, Mikhail Vrubel and some other painters, however, still regarded the academy's 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 the 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 Russian Academy of Arts has been headquartered in Moscow since 1947. The historic building on the Neva River in St. Petersburg now accommodates the Ilya Repin St. Petersburg Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, but is still informally known as the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.