The Fitzwillilam Museum, Cambridge. Detail of entrance. Courtsey of Wikimedia Commons CC0-1.0-UPDD.

British Art Collections – Day 2 Fitzwilliam Museum

  • Thursday 15 June 2023
  • Keynes Library, Birkbeck School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD
  • Lecturer: Sarah Burles

During the summer of 2023 we are offering a series of linked but separate study days on British Art Collections. Each day can be booked individually. We also intend to include some small group visits to individual galleries. These will be organised separately and subject to demand.

This series will examine the history of some of the UK’s greatest art institutions: what or who inspired their foundation, where their collections came from and how their buildings were designed. What audiences did the founders imagine and what ideas were they trying to impart – and how have those audiences and ideas changed through the years and for the modern era? Explore artworks and exhibitions, meet the personalities and discover the stories behind the façades of the nation’s collections from London to Edinburgh and from Liverpool to Cambridge.

Programme for Day 2

Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Fitzwilliam Museum was founded in February 1816 upon the death of Richard, VII Viscount Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilliam’s generous bequest to the University of Cambridge and much of his own collecting was shaped by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Over two hundred years later, the museum’s collections continue to reflect the lives and interests of particular collectors, benefactors and directors. These have included a Cambridge maths don with a passion for pots, an ex-patriot aristocrat with an eye for Renaissance bronzes and a charismatic museum director who doubled the size of the museum and tripled the size of the collection. Their stories and many more will be shared over the course of this study day.


  1. Lord Fitzwilliam and His Bequest to Cambridge
  2. “I found it a pigsty and turned it into a palace”
  3. “A collection of collections”
  4. Stepping into the twenty-first century


 Sarah Burles studied History of Art at Cambridge University before doing a masters at University College London. She went on to have a career in museum and gallery education, establishing new services in three different museums before working at the Fitzwilliam Museum for many years. Sarah is the founder of Cambridge Art Tours and a Tour Director for ACE Cultural Tours and has led tours to Europe, America and the UK.

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