At the end of 1896 the terms and conditions for a competition to design a building for a museum of fine arts bearing the name of Alexander III and affiliated to Moscow University appeared in the St. Petersburg and Moscow press. That was the moment in the Museum's history when the plan devised by Ivan Vladimirovich Tsvetaev (1847-1913) for the creation of an art museum for the general public and the promotion of education ceased to be a mere dream and began to take real shape.
Nineteen architects from several different towns in Russia entered the competition. Fifteen of their designs were examined in detail and seven singled out for awards. One of the seven architects involved was selected by the University board to build the museum – a young but already well-known Moscow architect, Roman Ivanovich Klein (1858-1929). It was he who then proceeded to elaborate final plans for the project.
The building was erected in accordance with the latest requirements of building technology and museum design. On the outside it had the appearance of a Classical temple on a high podium with an Ionic colonnade along its façade. Its glass roof ensured that there was sufficient daylight in the first-floor galleries and the two atrium- courtyards.
Ivan Tsvetaev himself was to play a considerable role in shaping the Museum's appearance, being interested not merely in its architecture as such but also in its educational function as a reflection of the history of architecture. Anxious to avoid the kind of eclectic combination of different styles popular at that time, Tsvetaev, when drawing up the terms and conditions for the architectural competition, had insisted that the plans submitted by those entering should be either in the Classical style or that of the Renaissance period. It was also specified that the decoration of the interiors should incorporate elements of a range of historical periods in keeping with the items on display.