The Fitzwilliam Museum and Art Gallery is not a regular haunt for me as Cambridge never seems an easy place to either get to or park. However we went there last week on our trip to East Anglia and were well rewarded. The Museum with its magnificent classical front, is set out mainly on two levels. The upper floor is dedicated to British and European paintings and sculpture, the traditional text of British Art History teaching. In the galleries of the lower floor will be found artifacts from all around the world set out in museum style. I must admit to preferring the upper galleries but if pottery and porcelain is your preference the Fitzwilliam is a must for you.
The Fitzwilliam, of course, is one of Britain’s premier art galleries and there is a lot of paintings to take in from all the periods of study in Europe and Britain. There is a very extensive collection of early and renaissance Italian works. I especially liked the early religious devotional works, the range of which is probably only bettered in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery.
Impressionism is the subject of this blog and two paintings I have seen in academic text books but never close up.
Renoir’s A Gust of Wind (1972) is a challenge to create the impossible – movement in a still painting. Like many impressionist artworks it plays tricks with the brain’s ability to interpret what it sees. In this work Renoir uses the brush work to represent a breeze coming over the scene from the left. The tall grasses in the foreground seem to bend in the wind and the shrubs and trees shake as the clouds race across the sky. The scene has no people in it which is unusual for Renoir. The pleasure of seeing this painting close up is that the affects that the artist is trying to show work so much more realistically than on the printed page.
Impressionist art set to shock the art work in a way that challenged the establishment in the late nineteenth century.
Claude Monet was, of course, a master and the acknowledged leader of the movement. The painting I love, a few yards from the Renoir is The Poplars (1891). Monet painted this view of these huge trees from a boat (en plain aire sur l’eau!). With such a range of cool shades of blue and green he has captured both the scale of the view but also hinted at the stupefying heat of the moment. Although very familiar to the twentieth century spectator Monet broke conventions with this square framed painting. Monet had recently had success painting a series of views, fifteen in all, of haystacks. This follow up series of twenty three paintings of poplars was all exhibited in Paris in 1892.
The success and popularity of these ‘series’ paintings led him on to his greatest and well known series of Water Lilies.
There is of course much more to enjoy in the galleries. Our only disappointment was that the twentieth century collection was temporarily closed. Compensation was the Octagon (Gallery 11), a changing exhibition space to compliment the twentieth century galleries. Currently is an exhibition on the theme of woman, featuring works by Bridget Riley, Barbara Hepworth and others.
The late fifteenth century in Britain is my current interest, especially the art that appeared during the recession years of the Yorkist Kings. So I was delighted to find hidden away in the last gallery we looked at a painted panel from 1470 of The Kiss of Judas. It had obviously been restored with bright colours. There is a replica in its original position in a church in Grafton Regis, in Northamptonshire, which we visited a few weeks ago. The village was the centre for the Woodville family, the female line of which was very involved in the power shift from the York dynasty to the Tudors. Elizabeth Woodville, became Edward IV’s queen, Henry VII’s mother in law and Henry VIII’s grandmother.
The Fitzwilliam Museum and Art Gallery is at the centre of the University area not far from Clare, King’s and Trinity Colleges. An intriguing mix of academia and tourism.