It was conceived as a venue for naturalistic theatre, in contrast to the melodramas that were Russia's dominant form of theatre at the time. The theatre quickly became famous when it staged Anton Chekhov's four major works, beginning with its production of The Seagull in 1898. This production was so successful that the theatre adopted the seagull as its emblem. The theatre also staged the dramatic work of Maxim Gorky, although in 1904, following a disagreement with Nemirovich, he terminated his relationship with the organisation.
The theatre continued to thrive after the October Revolution of 1917 and was one of the foremost state-supported theatres of the Soviet Union, with an extensive repertoire of leading Russian and Western playwrights. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote several plays for the MAT and satirised the organisation mercilessly in his novel Black Snow. Isaac Babel's Sunset was also performed there during the 1920s. A significant number of Moscow Art Theatre's actors were awarded the prestigious title of People's Artist of the USSR. Many actors became nationally known and admired thanks to their film roles. In 1987, the theatre split into two troupes: the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre and the Gorky Moscow Art Theatre. Oleg Tabakov has been the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre's artistic director since 2000. The theatre is presently located just off Tverskaya Street, within walking distance of Red Square.