In the history of Russian fine arts one can distinguish two periods. Peter the Great reforms marked the border between them. The difference is extremely deep and concerns the very essence of artistic perception of the world and a human being.
In Old Russia painting appeared and developed in a close connection with icon worshiping, the basis of which is the doctrine of Incarnation.
Alongside with Christianity the Russian masters adopted the Byzantium artistic style and technique developed through centuries. Henceforth in Russian principalities icon-painting schools having their own peculiarities of painting were formed (Novgorod, Pskov, Yaroslavl, Tver icon-painting schools).
The highest flourishing of Russian medieval painting refers to the 14th - 15th centuries and it is reflected in the works of Pheophan Grek and Anrei Rublev. The top of Russian icon painting is Trinity (1422 - 1427) by A. Rublev, which he created as a symbol of spiritual consent and unity of Russian people.
Since the middle of the 16th century icon painting undergoes the influence of Western fine arts. Developed icon painting of the court school used Western European plot schemes. The end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century is marked by the development of 'Stroganoff school' (despite the name it consisted mainly of court masters) that is distinguished by the refinement of colour and careful working at details and by the tendency to some decoration and 'prettiness' of painting.
In the second half of the 17th century icons of so-called 'fryag painting' appear. They included the elements of Western European painting: oil colours and great verisimilitude in depicting people and nature. The most prominent representative of the trend is Simon Ushakov (the 17th century). The first attempts of creating a temporal portrait can also be referred to that time.
The end of the 19th century is marked by awakening interest in an icon as 'a great world art' (E. Trubetskoy). It was possible thanks to clearing of ancient samples grown dark and discovering their real colour. Artistic principles of icon painting were used creatively by both single Russian icon-painters (V. Vasnetsov, M. Nesterov, K. Petrov-Vodkin), foreign ones (A. Matisse) and by the whole trends and vanguard schools.
In the 18th century and at the beginning if the 19th century fine arts in Russia, following cultural needs of the society, experiences all the main stages of Western art: Baroque, Classicism, Romanticism. Foreign painters and sculptors invited to Russia play an important role but very talented home masters appear in the time of Elisabeth I.
In the middle of the 18th century academic manner becomes a leading trend in painting. It is characterized by strict manner of painting, by following certain rules in composition, by some conditional character of colouring, by making use of the plots from the Bible, from ancient history and mythology. However, the highest achievement of the epoch is not a historical painting but a portrait (A. Argunov, A. Antropov, F. Rokotov, D. Levitsky, V. Borovikovsky, O. Kiprensky). F Shubin became the first great Russian master of a sculpture portrait.
The flourishing of an academic school refers to the first half of the 19th century. K. Bryulov's canvas are characterized by the combination of academic Classicism with Romanticism, by novelty of plots, by the theatrical effect of plastic and lighting, by complex composition and by brilliant virtuosity of a painter's brush. A. Ivanov added some character of sacrificial devotion to the idea and he managed to overcome lots of patterns referring to academic technique. Later the best traditions of academic manner found its further development in great historical canvas painted by G. Semiradsky.
In sculpture N. Pimenov and I. Martos first shook the traditions of Classicism. They gave some modern features to their works. At that time P. Fedotov followed his own way. He was considered to be a brilliant dilettante, a subtle observe and a witty satirist, who anticipated further trends of Russian genre - painting.
Social aspiration of 1860 - 1870s awakes the painters' interest in the themes connected with people's life. In 1872 in contrast to the Academy of Arts the Association of travelling art exhibition is founded (I. Kramskoy, G. Myasoedov, K. Savitsky, I. Pryanishnikov, V. Makovsky, I. Yaroshenko, V. Perov, etc). Genre painting acquires some exposing character in their works.
The appeal to national themes resulted in unprecedented flourishing of historical and batal painting. V. Surikov, I. Repin, M. Ge, V. Vasnetsov, V. Vereschagin, F. Rubo created real masterpieces in those genres.
The first Russian Art Galleries were opened during those years; the works of Russian painters were exhibited regularly in international exhibitions and foreign art salons.
Having achieved independence in their creative activity since the end of the 19th century Russian painting follows the same European course of fine arts. Landscape painting is ousting genre painting. Striving for depicting air and light, peculiar to Impressionism, can also be found in the works of F. Vasiliev, I. Levitan, V. Serov, K. Korovin, and A. Arkhipov. Symbolism, Neo-classicism and Modern influenced greatly A. Vrubel, the painters from 'World of Arts' (A. Benua, L. Bakst, E. Lansere) and the painters from 'A Blue Rose' (S. Sideikin, N. Krymov, V. Borisov-Musatov). The 1910s are marked by the appearance of Russian vanguard, as a aspiration to rebuild the very essence of art up to the denial of art itself. A number of artists and creative associations set new schools and new trends, which influenced radically the development of world's fine arts - Supermatism (K. Malevich), 'the style of improvisation' and abstract art (V. Kandinsky).
The Renaissance of Russian vanguard is referred to 1960s.
So-called 'allowed', but not the official part of Russian art of the 1960s is represented by the works of the masters of 'severe style' (T. Salakhov, S. Popkov). In 1970 -1980s the works of Soviet painters (R. Bichuns, P. Tordia, D. Zhilinsky, E. Shteinberg, M. Romadin, M. Leis, V. Kalinin, etc.) were generally recognized. Those painters proved that there existed not only 'propaganda' in the USSR.
Crash of Communism in the USSR destroyed artificial cultural barriers between Russia and the rest of the world. Nowadays Russian art is a welcome visitor almost on every part of the world. This inspires optimism as cross-cultural communication is a real sign showing the state of world' art.