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The Fitzwilliam Museum - True to Nature: Open-air Painting in Europe 1780-1870
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True to Nature: Open-air Painting in Europe 1780-1870

This exhibition is now in our archive.

In this unique exhibition, explore the inventive ways artists in the 18th and 19th centuries recorded fleeting moments in nature, capturing the effects of light, drama, and atmosphere first-hand in the open air.

The exhibition unites for the first time more than 100 oil sketches from the remarkable collections of The Foundation Custodia in Paris, The National Gallery of Art in Washington, and The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, together with a distinguished private collection of sketches, never before seen in public.

Featuring works by artists including John Constable, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, J.M.W. Turner, Edgar Degas and Louise-Joséphine Sarazin de Belmont, the thrill of these painters’ encounters with nature is palpable in their highly skilled, rapidly painted sketches. We see with their eyes and feel their wonder as they witness storm-torn skies, limpid rockpools, the dappled shade of a tree canopy or the awe-inspiring sight of an erupting volcano.

Some studied landscapes that were close to their homes and their hearts, while others made arduous journeys to paint breathtaking sites ‘in the field’, from the Baltic coast and Swiss Alps to the ruins of Rome.

Through beautiful projections of the cellular structures of trees, spectacular footage of volcanoes, and mineral, rock and botanical specimens, the exhibition also highlights developments in the earth sciences each seeking, like painters of the time, to reveal ‘truths’ about the world we inhibit.

Image: Johann Jakob Frey, Cloud Study (detail). Private collection. Photo © Pascal Faligot

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Curators and experts behind this exhibition

A profile image of Mary Morton

Mary Morton

Co-curator, True to Nature

A profile image of Ger Luijten

Ger Luijten

Co-Curator, True to Nature

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