Since in Old Rus’ art served exclusively religious aims and the Orthodox Church disapproved of sculpturing human figures, there was no Russian sculpture in the real sense of the word before epoch of Peter the Great. Artistically poor cast crosses, sacred images, icon settings, carved figure iconostases, and painted carved icons that emerged in former Novgorod lands under the Western influences and were devoid of any artistic significance are the only examples of rudiments of old Russian sculpture.
Those rudiments had seen no development by the 18th century and Peter the First, when starting the Russian fleet and artillery and requiring sculpture masters hired foreign casters and sculptors who were to teach their art to the Russians. But both under Peter the First and his successors sculpture developments long stayed in foreigners’ hands.
Most remarkable of the first Russian sculptors were the gifted Fedot Shubin and Mikhail Kozlovsky, who worked in reign of Catherine the Second, and Boris Orlovsky from Alexander’s epoch. Having got classical education and perfected their skills in Europe they adhered to classical technique and French style reigning in Western Europe in those years, and yet at the same time they managed to add something independent and original into their creations.
The art of sculpture saw some enlivening under the reign of Nicholas the First. Count Fyodor Tolstoy who was heading the Academy of Arts for over thirty years aroused interest of the capital public in art and set medalist craft on the artistic basis. Yet, the major merit was that of Emperor Nicholas the First who loved and patronized arts and greatly helped up promote the art of sculpture by making large-scale governmental orders. Numerous orders were mainly fulfilled by Russian sculptors, such as Samuil Galberg, Ivan Vitaly, Nikolay Ramazanov, Alexander Loganovsky, and Nikolai Pimenov. Those sculptors limited by definite orders and brought up by the Academy with tendency for imitation and pursuit of outer beauty showed little free creativity and yet some of them timidly started to join the growing aspiration for realism and national roots.
Upon changing the organization of artistic upbrining in the Academy, Russian sculptor already less estranged from life, and less limited by the governmental guidance became more independent and following the overall tendency closer to the national roots. One of the representatives of this new generation of sculptors, who tried to serve realism and the national spirit, was Fyodor Kamensky, whose works were clear evidence of his determined attempt to take a free independent path and cut the strings of limiting academic classicism. During the last 40 years of the 19th century this trend asserted itself in Russian sculpture.
In the tumultuous 20th century sculpture became very contradictive and was often associated with various modernist streams and formalist experiments of cubism (Alexander Arkhipenko), constructivism (Naum Gabo, Lazar Pevzner), surrealism, abstract art and so on. Modernist trends were consistently opposed by soviet sculpture developing in the framework of Social realism.Ivan Shadr, Vera Mukhina).
Tragic events and heroic deeds of the war period found especially vivid reflection in memorial constructions of the 1940-70s (Yevgeny Vuchetich and others).
Acute feeling of modernity and search of ways for renovating the sculpture language were typical of the sculpture of the 1950-70s. Modern sculptors in Russia are open to world-wide tendencies and are free to express themselves. Some of them have gained international fame: Mikhail Shemyakin, Ernst Neizvestny, Alexander Rukavishnikov and Zurab Tsereteli.