An arty attraction: The Fitzwilliam Museum

Sarah Maclean 23 January 2015

Settling into Lent term after a Christmas at home can take a bit of time; but I find that when trying to get reacquainted with Cambridge, it helps to revisit old haunts.

It’s the second day of Lent term and I already need to escape the (wonderfully beautiful) walls of Girton; so without an actual purpose in mind, I make the 2.5-mile journey into town, ending up at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

As somewhere in Cambridge you have probably visited at least once – or at least meant to- the Fitzwilliam Museum is considered a main Cambridge ‘attraction’ (meaning it’s kind of a BNOC, and you should probably go check it out soon).  

When I first came to university, I loved spending hours wandering the galleries; yet I suddenly realise I actually haven’t visited here in about a year, which is a shocking thought for somebody who professes to be so interested in art. I guess sometimes other commitments, coupled with the quick pace of our terms here, means that small visits to places such as art galleries can be deemed unnecessary, when in fact they can provide that well-needed break from the week’s essay/deadlines.

Personally, I feel that’s what the Fitzwilliam Museum offers other than fantastic art: peace and quiet (if avoided at weekends). The sheer size of the museum gives the impression it is not part of the infamous ‘Cambridge Bubble’ that can feel so confined. The immense, open spaces within help with meditation and thinking; you don’t even have to be into art to go there for a bit of space, maybe a coffee.

Yet if you are into art: perhaps a visit to the museum is in order to explore the galleries. From paintings of the Italian Renaissance and the Impressionists, to artefacts from the Ancient World, there is something for every taste here. Latest exhibitions include the extremely popular Silent Partners, and 1914: War and Money. Upcoming exhibitions include Treasured Possessions From Renaissance to Enlightenment and Modern Heroism: Printmaking and the legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte. It is well worth a visit.

But as a keen sketcher myself, a public space such as the Fitzwilliam Museum gives an immediate and ever-changing subject to draw: observing life here brings endless amounts of inspiration. Having felt uninspired with regards to my own art of late, returning to places such as art galleries and museums is so great. So, on this revisit I sit, I sketch, and I eventually lose track of time; realising I have been drawing for 3 hours, and that I have also forgotten about an essay deadline.

As Claude Monet said: “Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. It’s enough to drive one mad. I have such a desire to do everything, my head is bursting with it.”