The Moscow Art Theatre (MAT) opened in Moscow on October 26, 1898. This theatre, now dedicated to Maxim Gorky, is the most famous Russian theatrical organisation. It was founded by Konstantin Stanislavsky and Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. The theatre, with its emphasis on realistic presentation and its careful attention to every detail of the production, was successful from the time of its debut (Alexei Tolstoi’s Tsar Feodor Ioannovich). The debut season also featured Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull and the company's fame has been linked to the success of this season ever since. In the years that followed, the MAT under Stanislavsky’s often autocratic direction, created a series of legendary productions during the first decade of its existence including Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, and The Cherry Orchard, Maxim Gorky’s Lower Depths, Leonid Andreev’s Life of a Man. After the Russian Revolution, Stanislavsky remained in the Soviet Union and continued to run the Art Theatre. Between 1922 and 1924 the troupe engaged in a triumphant series of guest performances in Europe and the United States. After his return from this tour, Stanislavsky added a number of major Soviet plays to the Art Theatre’s repertoire, including Mikhail Bulgakov’s Day of the Turbins, Valentin Kataev’s Squaring the Circle, and Vladimir Kirshon’s Bread.

Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko met a year before they founded the Art Theatre. Stanislavsky was an amateur actor and a prosperous industrialist, Nemirovich-Danchenko a well-known man of letters, dramatist and producer. They spent almost 24 hours at the "Slav Bazaar" Restaurant, discussing the kind of theatre people needed. "We declared war on all conventions - in acting, in staging, in scenery, in costumes, in the interpretation of plays," Stanislavsky recalled later. They gathered a troupe of young actors, many amateurs from the Society for Art and Literature as well as young graduates from the Philharmonic Society dramatic classes, and spent the summer of 1898 rehearsing till everyone was exhausted. It was set up as a co-operative venture, issuing shares to its members. It was also supported financially by wealthy arts patrons and members of the Moscow intelligentsia, among whom the most active was Sava Morozov. On October 26, 1898 the theatre presented its first premiere to an audience divided between hostility and support for the new naturalistic acting style. The company achieved definite success with its fifth production Chekhov's The Seagull. The Seagull that took wing from its stage became MAT's emblem. The company's work was based on Stanislavsky's system of dramatic training, which is described in his books. At the time his method for achieving truth in performance was perceived as radical and the results were revolutionary. The MAT soon developed an unassailable reputation for the quality of the company's productions.

Nemirovich-Danchenko made his own contribution to the history of the Arts Theatre. The company’s repertoire and involvement in the production of new work was the result of his initiatives and negotiations with both writers and Stanislavsky. He fought for the MAT to stage plays by Chekhov, Gorky, Ibsen and dramas based on novels by Dostoievsky and Leo Tolstoi. He brought contemporary Russian playwrights to public attention. It was due to Nemirovich-Danchenko that the theatre began to reflect contemporary life with all its problems and sentiments.