From artists’ tool to erotic plaything, over the past 200 years the mannequin has – quite literally – taken on a life of its own.

Originally a means by which to set up a composition or study the fall of clothing, studio models were a closely guarded secret – a 'trick of the trade'. It wasn't until the 19th century, when designers sought to make more realistic human-size versions with articulated skeletons, that the mannequin began to appear as a subject in its own right.

At first it featured humorously, for example a painting by Heinrich von Rustige shows a farmer doffing his hat to a mannequin in soldier's uniform. But later painters such as Edgar Degas began to represent the mannequin in more troubling ways, playing on the unnerving psychological presence of a figure that was realistic, yet unreal.

Photographers particularly were concerned with the voyeuristic relationship between male painter and female mannequin, and by the 20th century imagery began to allude to potential erotic encounters. The surrealists were among those who celebrated it as an object that could reveal unconscious desires.

This exhibition – one of the Fitzwilliam’s most wide-ranging and ambitious yet – features over 180 paintings, drawings and photographs as well as fashion dolls, trade catalogues and extraordinary patent documents and videos.

Silent Partners Teaser 2014 from fitzmuseum on Vimeo.

Fitzwilliam Museum

Trumpington Street, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 1RB

01223 332900


Opening times

Tue – Sat, 10am – 5pm

Sun & Bank Holidays, 12noon – 5pm

Closed Mon, 24 – 26, 31 Dec and 1 Jan

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