Ivan Kramskoi is an outstanding Russian painter whose contribution to the history of art is not limited by his personalartwork, but is, to a considerable degree, supplemented by his extensive influence on the evolution of the entire Russian school of painting. An adherent of the idea of public service popular in the second half of the 19th century among the progressive-minded part of society, he became the inspirator of the formation of an association of artists independent of the Academy and its official program and determined to reflect the versatility of life and the moral ideal of the present through their free creative effort. It was a time of the emergence of realistic art and its formation into a national school of art. Of much significance are Kramskoi's theoretical ideas presented in his letters that remain topical and also grant the viewer a chance to better understand famous paintings.
Key words: I.N. Kramskoi, second half of the 19th century painting, art theoretician, personal oeuvre, public service.