This spectacular, crescent-shaped neoclassical building, most famous for its central triumphal arch, which brings pedestrians out on to Palace Square from Nevsky Prospekt, was designed by renowned St. Petersburg architect Carlo Rossi and completed in 1827. Before the Revolution it housed not only the offices of the General Staff, in the East Wing, but also the Tsarist Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Finance in the West Wing.
Since 1993, the Hermitage has had control of both wings of the building, and uses them to display a variety of permanent exhibitions of applied art connected to the history of the building, completed at the height of the Russian Empire, soon after Russia's victory against Napoleon. An exhibition entitled 'Realms of the Eagle' compares French and Russian decorative art and costume in the Imperial Age, contrasting the cultural influences of Napoleon and Alexander I. Also in the former premises of the General Staff, the Museum of Guards is a straightforward exhibition detailing the history of the Russian Imperial Guards through paintings, uniforms, weaponry and regimental regalia.
The West Wing of the building is occupied in part by an exhibition dedicated to the pre-Revolutionary Russian Foreign Ministry, which is most interesting for the collection of lavish diplomatic gifts presented to the Russian Imperial Court. The most appealing exhibition in the General Staff Building for most visitors, however, is the Hermitage's permanent collection of Art Nouveau masterpieces. The movement flourished in St. Petersburg, as evidenced by the huge number of superb Style Modern buildings throughout the city center, and this beguiling exhibition compares Russian glass and porcelain productions with their French and even American counterparts, as well as including several magnificent tapestries.
Almost a continuation of this exhibition, the final permanent display in the General Staff Building contains panels painted by two French artists, Pierre Bonnard and Maurice Denis, both members of Les Nabis, a movement whose interests paralleled those of Art Nouveau. The works on display here were all commissioned by celebrated Moscow collector Ivan Morozov for his Moscow mansion, and comprise a triptych by Bonnard called The Mediterranean and a series of panels by Denis depicting The History of Psyche.