Silent Partners is a ground-breaking exhibition devoted to the artist’s mannequin, that uncovers its playful, uncanny – and sometimes disturbing – history from the Renaissance to the present-day.

For centuries, the mannequin, or lay figure, was little more than a studio tool, a piece of equipment as necessary as easel, pigments and brushes. This major new loan exhibition reveals the multiple purposes it serves – from fixing perspective and painting reflections, to being a support for drapery and costume – and shows how it gradually moved centre stage to become the subject of the painting, photograph or film, eventually becoming a work of art in its own right.

One of the most wide-ranging and ambitious shows ever hosted at the Museum, the exhibition will feature over 180 paintings, drawings, books and photographs as well as fashion dolls, trade catalogues, a series of extraordinary patent documents and videos. There will be paintings and drawings by Cézanne, Poussin, Gainsborough, Millais, Ford Madox Brown, and Degas as well as photographs by and of Surrealist artists such as Man Ray, Hans Bellmer and Salvador Dali; works by Jake and Dinos Chapman show that, even today, artists continue to be drawn to the creative potential unleashed by our artificial Others.

But among the most striking and fascinating exhibits in Silent Partners will be the mannequins themselves: from beautifully carved 16th century small-scale figurines to haunting wooden effigies, painted dolls of full human height and top-of-the range ‘stuffed Parisian’ lay figures that were sought after by artists throughout Europe.

After its showing in Cambridge, Silent Partners will travel to the Musée Bourdelle, Paris. It will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book published by Yale University Press in association with Paris Musées.

Tue 14 October 2014 to Sun 25 January 2015
Galleries 10, 11, 12 & 13

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Photos: Fitzwilliam Museum.

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