The Fitzwilliam Museum: a source of inspiration


Image["Image of The Fitzwilliam Museum at 18 May 2005 10.00am"]

Robin Stemp
The Fitzwilliam Museum
18 May 2005 10.00am
© Robin Stemp

Already a source for M. R. James (writer of ghost stories and Director of the Fitzwilliam) at the beginning of the 20th century, the Fitzwilliam Museum has continued to inspire. This exhibition traces how contemporary ceramicists, musicians, painters, photographers, sculptors and writers have responded to the Fitzwilliam Museum and its collections.  Contributors


The impact of museums and their collections on artists and writers has taken many forms. For example, when Marc Chagall arrived in Paris in 1910, the young Russian painter went directly from the train station to the Musée du Louvre. 'Going to the Louvre', he said later, 'is like reading the Bible or Shakespeare.' Training ground and source of inspiration for generations of artists – most notably Turner, Ingres, Manet, Degas, Cézanne and Picasso – the Musée du Louvre also provided the French modernist painter Henri Matisse with a wealth of ideas. A regular copyist during his student days, he returned to the Louvre in 1915 and entered into a dialogue with Jan Davidsz. de Heem, the seventeenth-century Dutch master of flower and fruit still lifes. What emerged was another major still life, closely modelled on the old master, yet also unquestionably modern in interpretation.

Image["Image of Jan Davidsz.de Heem painting"]

Jan Davidsz. de Heem
Fruits et riche vaisselle sur une table, dit Un dessert
Netherlands 1640
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Image["Image of Matisse painting, Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem"]

Henri Matisse
Still Life after Jan Davidsz. de Heem's ’Le Dessert’
France, 1915, Museum of Modern Art, New York


But if the influence of paintings crossed borders and centuries, it also had an impact on other art forms. One of the most pertinent examples is Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition – a Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann (Картинки с выставки – Воспоминание о Викторе Гартмане), later arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel. Composed in St Petersburg in 1874, it is Mussorgsky’s musical record of a visit he paid to a commemorative exhibition. Mounted in honour of his artist friend Viktor Hartmann, it included over 400 architectural drawings, watercolours and paintings, now largely lost. Mussorgsky set ten of these a musical monument. Remarkably, the composition also documents his progress through the exhibition as well as the sorrow he felt over his friend’s death. Opened by way of a Promenade, the lead theme later reappears in the form of interludes and shows Mussorgsky move from picture to picture. It eventually merges into some of the 'pictures' - The Catacombes (picture no. 8) and The Great Gate of Kiev (picture no. 10) – and expresses the intense loss Mussorgsky felt when visiting the exhibition.

Image["Image of Plan for the Great Gate in Kiev by Viktor Harmann"]

Viktor Hartmann,
Plan for the
Great Gate in Kiev,
c.1866

Image["Image of part of score for Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky"]

Modest Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition, 1874, bars 3 and 4 of the opening Promenade

Image["Image of cover of first edition of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition"]

Cover of the first edition of Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition / Tableaux d’une exposition,
edited by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and published by W. Bessel & Co in St Petersburg in 1886



Image["Image of the painting The Magic Apple Tree by Samuel Palmer"]

Samuel Palmer
The Magic Apple Tree
Britain, 1830
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

To explore who has been inspired by Samuel Palmer’s The Magic Apple Tree, as well as antiquities, armour, ceramics, coins, manuscripts, sculptures and other paintings in the collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum, select "Contributors" in the navigation bar on the left.

With sincere thanks to the contributors to this exhibition:

Alan Bennett, Helaine Blumenfeld, Richard Bray, A. S. Byatt, Alma Cullen, Christophe Gordon-Brown, Antony Gormley, Susanna Gregory, Rebecca Harvey, Christopher Hogwood, Joanna Howells, John Hubbard, Diane Hudson, Nathan Huxtable, David Kinloch, Patrick Lennon, Adrian Mitchell, Jill Paton Walsh, Ruth E. Scott, Michelle Spring, Robin Stemp, Rebecca Stott, Claire Tomalin, Edmund de Waal, Marina Warner and Peter Whitehead.

Uta Protz, 2008

With generous support from:



The Fitzwilliam Museum : Introduction

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