'I Turned it into a Palace': Sir Sydney Cockerell and The Fitzwilliam Museum

The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
November 2008 - 17 March 2009

This exhibition will celebrate one of the most enriching periods in the history of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Directorship of Sir Sydney Cockerell (1908 - 1937).

It will examine his close relationship with leading artists, writers and collectors of the period, including John Ruskin, William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelites, Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Fairfax Murray, and Henry Yates Thompson.

It will also explore Cockerell's enormous impact on museum design and display in the early twentieth century.

The exhibition will bring together for the first time Cockerell's most spectacular acquisitions.

Some of them, such as Titian's Tarquin and Lucretia or the ancient Greek vases, are among the Museum's iconic exhibits.

But many more are treasures rarely seen by the public, for instance the works of William Blake, William Morris' Kelmscott Press books, Keats' autograph manuscript of Ode to the Nightingale, and the superb collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

A number of these exceptional works of art were acquired by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, another of Cockerell's novel creations, followed as a model by museums and galleries throughout the country.

To mark the centenary of the foundation of the Friends in 1909, the exhibition will conclude with a recent acquisition which attracted their most generous contribution ever and the largest public support in the history of the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Macclesfield Psalter. As a newly discovered member of the East Anglian school of illumination, which was first defined and studied by Sydney Cockerell, its acquisition is a tribute to his life-long passion for illuminated manuscripts - as a scholar, collector, and museum director.

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