On the suggestion of Count Ivan Shuvalov, Empress Elizabeth issued an imperial decree for the foundation in St. Petersburg of an "academy of the three most noble arts" (painting, sculpture, and architecture) in 1757. The Academy was originally housed in Shuvalov's mansion on Sadovaya Ulitsa, but Catherine the Great decided that the institution deserved its own building, and a site was chosen next to the Neva River on Vasilevskiy Island.
The main architect for the project was Jean-Baptiste Vallin de la Mothe, whom Shuvalov invited from France to become the first professor of architecture at the Academy. De la Mothe was helped by Yury Felten and Alexander Kokorinov, who would become the first Russian professor to teach at the Academy. Catherine herself laid the foundation stone of the building in 1765, and also insisted that at the center of the building there should be a circular courtyard matching the dimensions of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral in Rome. One of the earliest neoclassical buildings in St. Petersburg, the Academy was only completed in 1788. As well as its elegant facades, the building boasts some superbly decorated interiors, particularly the entrance hall, the main staircase, the Raphael Hall and the Titian Hall.
Today, the official name of the institution occupying the building is the I. E. Repin St. Petersburg State Academic Institute of Painting, Architecture and Sculpture, still considered to be among Russia's finest art colleges. The building has also long been home to the Museum of the Academy of Arts which displays works by many of the Academy's most illustrious alumni.