New film takes you behind the scenes at the Fitzwilliam Museum

New film takes you behind the scenes at the Fitzwilliam Museum


A new film reveals the work that goes into a major exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum by exploring the acclaimed show Degas: A Passion for Perfection as part of an examination of the artist and his work.

The film

EXHIBITION ON SCREEN travels from last year’s critically acclaimed exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum to the streets of Paris, exploring the fascinating story of Degas’s quest for perfection. With exclusive access to view rare and diverse works, and behind the scenes access to the exhibition, the film offers a fresh and in-depth look at of one of history’s greatest artists, directed by award-winning filmmaker David Bickerstaff.

Sometimes frustrated by his own failings, Degas was consumed by obsessive principles and failing eyesight but his determination to capture everyday life was evident in every mark he made. Using written accounts by friends and commentators, and the narration of letters written by Degas himself, this film reveals a more complex truth and serves as an exploration of the complex workings of Degas’s artistic mind.

The new film began screening in cinemas worldwide on 6 November. Find a location near you >

If you can't make it to a screening, fear not - the film is due to be released on DVD in February 2019 for the USA and Canada and in March 2019 for the UK and India, amongst other countries. (Dates may be subject to change. Please check the EOS website for further details in due course.)

  • Degas quotation and Arabesque over the Right Leg Arabesque over the Right Leg, Left Arm in Front, First Study... (copyright: Fit

The exhibition

After a career spanning over half a century, Degas died in September 1917 at the age of 83 years. To mark the centenary of the artist's death and celebrate his life's work, the Fitzwilliam hosted an exhibition from 3 October 2017 to 14 January 2018, after which the show went on display at the Denver Art Museum.

His remarkable range of work – paintings, pastels, drawings, watercolours, prints of different types, counterproofs and sculptures in bronze and wax - reveals Degas’s fascination with technical experimentation and constant drive to expand his means of expression. Arranged thematically, the exhibition highlighted many of the subjects most prominent in Degas’s work – nudes, café scenes and the dance – as well as his individual approach to landscape painting. Degas’s lifelong passion for learning from others was showcased in a series of copies he made after works by Italian Renaissance artists and near-contemporaries such as J-A-D Ingres and Eugène Delacroix. The final section of the exhibition examined Degas’s artistic legacy in the 20th and 21st centuries, notably in the work of Walter Sickert, Pablo Picasso, Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, RB Kitaj, Ryan Gander and Francis Bacon.

While the Fitzwilliam Museum's Degas collection is the most extensive and representative in the UK, the exhibition also included a group of rarely seen paintings and drawings from the collection of the economist John Maynard Keynes. These works were bought directly from Degas's posthumous studio sales in 1918 and 1919 and later bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge. Furthermore, the exhibition secured a series of highly significant loans from public and private collections in Europe and the United States to contextualize the Fitzwilliam’s collection. Several of these items were accorded exceptionally to the exhibition or exhibited for the first time there.

Image: Edgar Degas (1834–1917), Arabesque over the Right Leg, Left Arm in Front, First Study, c1882–95. Copyright: The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge​

Curator Jane Munro during filming at the exhibition - credit: Exhibitions On Screen

The curator

The exhibition was curated by Jane Munro, Keeper of Paintings, Drawings and Prints at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Director of Studies in History of Art at Christ's College, Cambridge.

Discussing the film, she said: "Working with Exhibition on Screen provided a wonderful opportunity to bring the Fitzwilliam’s remarkable collection of works by Degas – the finest in the UK – to a global audience. The film sensitively follows the conceptual structure of the exhibition, while using the cinematic medium to draw out its themes, adding narrative layers and depth in thrilling ways. Together, exhibition and film provide new insights into this extraordinarily compelling – and complex – artist, and highlight the legacy of his work on generations of artists that followed. A keen photographer with a passion for recording movement, who experimented compulsively with different media throughout his life, Degas would surely have been fascinated to see his work reproduced in this form."

Her research interests and publications have focused on British and French art from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, much of it interdisciplinary in nature. She has curated over eighty exhibitions, including Endless Forms: Darwin, Natural Sciences and the Visual Arts and Silent Partners: Artist and Mannequin from Function to Fetish at the Fitzwilliam Museum.

In recognition of her work developing cultural exchange with France, she has been made Chevalier des arts et lettres and Chevalier dans l’Ordre national du Mérite.

Image: Curator Jane Munro during filming. Copyright: EXHIBITION ON SCREEN

Degas: A Passion for Perfection book cover

The book

Edited by Jane Munro
ISBN 9780300228236

Published by Yale University Press, the book opens with a study of Degas’s debt to the Old Masters. Essays by leading Degas scholars and conservation scientists explore his practice and recurring themes of the human figure and landscape. The volume concludes with a consideration of his artistic legacy and his influence on leading artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Ryan Gander, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin, RB Kitaj, Pablo Picasso, and Walter Sickert.

Buy the book from the Fitzwilliam Museum Shop >

About the Fitzwilliam Museum

Founded in 1816, the Fitzwilliam Museum is the University's principal museum and lead partner for the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) Major Partner Museum programme funded by The Arts Council.

The Fitzwilliam’s collections explore world history and art from antiquity to the present day and are used in University teaching. It houses over half a million objects from ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts, to medieval illuminated manuscripts, masterpiece paintings from the Renaissance to the 21st century, world class prints and drawings, and outstanding collections of coins, Asian arts, ceramics and other applied arts.

The Fitzwilliam presents a wide ranging public programme of major exhibitions, events and education activities, and is an internationally recognised institute of learning, research and conservation.

Opening hours

  • 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday
  • 12pm to 5pm, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays
  • Closed annually from 24 to 26 and 31 December, 1 January and Good Friday

Admission: free

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