Thursday, 29 January 2015

Silent Partners

I feel so lucky that I managed to catch the very last day of 'Silent Partners' at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I'd been dying to see it ever since I first saw posters about it all over the tube and knew it would be right up my street. Entitled 'Artist & Mannequin from Function to Fetish', the exhibition looks at mannequins throughout history, as props used for paintings and later as the main focus of the images themselves.

The first mannequins we encountered were ones used for medical study, with the ceramic body cut away to reveal neatly carved internal organs. There were also miniature mannequins used to model clothes on a tiny scale, including a Marie-Antoinette style doll with painted on rosy cheeks and a made-to-measure dress with delicate embroidery. But the majority of the exhibition focused on the use of mannequins by artists, as a means of replacing life models. These were created in France and were skilfully designed to mimic the human body, with moveable limbs and sculpted faces. A short film - a piece of early French cinema by Georges Melieres - was also on display and showed some hilarious battles between artist and mannequin.

I loved seeing the Pre-Raphaelite paintings by the likes of Burne-Junes and Ford Madox Brown and was to surprised to learn how often they used mannequins in their work. 'The Black Brunswicker' by Millais shows Kate Dickens (daughter of Charles) in an embrace with a soldier. However, as she was unmarried the artist had to make use of mannequins so that the two where never in the room at the same time!

As well as the main exhibit, throughout the museum there were a selection of photographs by Tim Walker, hidden in various rooms. Tim Walker is one of my favourite photographers, so it was lovely to see some of his pictures blown up. I had never really thought about the influence that mannequins have on his photography, but he so often references them in his work (type in 'Tim Walker mannequin' into Google and you'll see what I mean). This is why I love going to museums and exhibitions so much as you get to learn who inspired who and find out how everything is connected.

There is something eery and unsettling about mannequins, and the exhibition captured this perfectly, with the life-like dolls sitting throughout the exhibition, staring blankly into space. And, whilst I would not like to be trapped in this exhibition at night, I honestly found it to be one of the most intriguing and inspiring that I've been to in a long time.

If you missed the exhibition (like I very nearly did) then you'll be able to catch it across the Channel in Paris! For more information see here.


  1. It looks like an extraordinary exhibition that I'd love to see (though sadly, Paris not very likely!) There is definitely something a little creepy about mannequins, so I'm with you on not relishing the thought of being alone overnight at this exhibition. Fascinating insight into their less well-known uses through history.

    1. Thank you, Rosalind! I very nearly got stuck in the British Museum once (in an exhibition about witches) so it's a very real fear! x