The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge is celebrating its bi-centenary this year. An exhibition, in the building’s Octagon Gallery, charts its history from the death of its founder, Richard 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrrion in 1816 to the present day.
The exhibition was launched to coincide with the publication of a new book: The Fitzwilliam Museum: a History written by Assistant Director for Collections at Fitzwilliam, Lucilla Burn.
Lord Fitzwilliam is regarded as a ‘deeply obscure’ man. There is often very little contemporary material detailing the lives of men of his generation who had achieved neither fame nor notoriety in their lifetime. “By going through archives and letters that relate to him, for the first time we can paint a fuller picture of his history, including aspects of his life that have previously been unknown, even to staff here at the Fitzwilliam.” said Burn.
The museum’s elevated portico, on which work began in 1837, dominates the city’s Trumpington Street. Its galleries house collections of art and antiquities of national, historical importance: European art from the 14th to 20th century; arts from Japan, Korea and the Far East; European and Japanese porcelain and other significant artifacts from collections acquired or bequeathed since the museum’s foundation.
The character and direction of the Fitzwilliam over the last one hundred years were defined mainly between 1908 and 1937 under the directorship of Sydney Cockerell. A single-minded and ambitious man, Cockerell once said of his tenure at the museum, “I found it a pigsty; I turned it into a palace.”
Ultimately though, it is Fitzwilliam himself who must take the credit. Current director of the Fitzwilliam, Tim Knox says the gift left to the nation by the museum’s founder is “one of the most important of his age.”
Opening times can be found at www.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk. Admission to the exhibition and the museum is free.