Fitzwilliam Museum: Cambridge Culture Guides

As I am currently studying in Cambridge, I thought I would start creating some blog content about some of the museums, colleges and other cultural delights Cambridge has to offer! This first post in the series is about the Fitzwilliam Museum, an amazingly diverse museum right in the centre of Cambridge. I’d visited the museum with school quite a few times but thought it was about time I paid it another visit!

The museum houses a vast collection of objects and art ranging from antiquity to the present day; this can sometimes be quite overwhelming to take in, but it’s also a nice chance to see a bit of everything. The collection is divided into sections based on either area, period and type of art/object. I thought this was a successful way to organise the museum, allowing you to focus on one element in each section of the museum and move from, for example, ceramics to the work from Nubia and Sudan. Due to such a diverse range of work, it’s like lots of different museums all in one! I sometimes love museums where you can explore different things rather than just pieces from a single period or place, especially when you’re visiting with other people, there’s something for everyone!

Processed with VSCO with nc preset

The Fitzwilliam was built to house the collection of Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion, an alumnus of the University of Cambridge, who bequeathed his vast collection of art to the University in 1816. Fitzwilliam wanted to create a dedicated space for his collection as a University Museum. The Museum was intended to place learning at the forefront, housing not only all of the art of the collection but also Fitzwilliam’s large selection of manuscripts and engravings in a library within the space. In 1834, the University held a grand architectural competition to design to the museum. The designs submitted ranged from a gothic church like structure to antique temples. However, a neo-classical design by George Basevi was chosen as the winning design. The work took a number of years to complete and was finished in 1848 with the help of Charles Robert Cockerell, after Baservi’s death in 1845. The Museum building is a work of art in itself, particularly the opulent entrance hall interior, which is heavily decorated in rich colours and designs. It is definitely one of my favourite parts of the museum!

I loved seeing so many objects from different places and periods on my trip to the Fitzwilliam and sadly can’t write about all of them here so thought I’d just pick out a few of my favourite pieces and talk through those to give you a taste of what’s on display in the museum.


This first piece is a painting called Walberswick, children paddling by Philip Wilson Steer, 1894. Prior to visiting the museum, I was unfamiliar with Steer’s work however, I loved discovering him through this piece. I think he has perfectly captured the atmosphere of being at the seaside. The dabbled blue texture of the sea not only creates the feeling of waves gently washing across the beach but the blue hue of the whole painting evokes a sense of sea air distinct to the seaside. I also love the contrast of the girl’s red dress against the blues, it adds a sense of vibrancy and fun of a child at the beach.

museum 2

The second artwork is Greenwich, a beautiful hand coloured engraving by Francis Seymour Haden in 1879. I am particularly drawn to the style of this engraving, the architecture and the boats within the piece are etched with great detail, yet each mark appears quite freely created, capturing the shape and feel of what the artist is trying to show rather than each minute detail. The tones of the hand colouring also add a darker atmosphere to the piece, adding more depth to the murky waters and more warmth to the hues of the sky.

museum 1

The third isn’t a piece exactly but the Ancient Rome and Greece room. The space was filled with an array of objects from antiquity: jewellery, ceramics, statues, mosaics and a wood panel painting. The objects were displayed in different ways within the room, some in display cabinets, others on plinths and large display stands. I loved how this allowed you to get up close and see some of the pieces without any glass obstructing the view. I also felt the neo-classical design of the room worked really well alongside the genuine classical artefacts and helped immerse the visitor in the classical world.

For more information about the Fitzwilliam Museum, Click here to visit the Fitzwilliam Website. As well as the permanent collection, the Fitzwilliam also has regular exhibitions. There is currently an exhibition on Whistler which looks really interesting, click here to see the current exhibitions.

I hope you enjoyed this post on the Fitzwilliam and are inspired to visit! If you’ve already visited, do let me know your favourite pieces in the comments below! I’m looking forward to planning more content about Cambridge.

Where’s your favourite place in Cambridge?

Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 22.22.05

2 Comments Add yours

  1. artandarchitecturemainly says:

    Thank you!! I love it.

    Many years ago, when I was writing a thesis about Huguenot silver art, the professor of art history at Melbourne Uni wrote a letter of introduction to Fitzwilliam. I was rapt. The collection of 16th- and 17th-century tankards and covered cups from Nuremburg was wonderful, as was the collection of Georgian silver made in England.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! Wow that’s amazing they made contact from Australia! But yes I agree the silver collection is beautiful at the Fitzwilliam.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s