Museum warns historic landscape paintings can evoke 'darker side' of 'nationalist feeling'

An art museum in the United Kingdom is making news for overhauling its galleries, saying idyllic paintings of the English countryside can spark “nationalist feeling” in viewers.

Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam Museum has changed its displays in a move that director Luke Syson insisted to The Telegraph was not “woke” but aimed at being more “inclusive.”

“I would love to think that there’s a way of telling these larger, more inclusive histories that doesn’t feel as if it requires a push-back from those who try to suggest that any interest at all in [this work is] what would now be called ‘woke,’” Syson said.

Gallery categories reportedly include subjects such as Men Looking at Women, Identity, Migration and Movement, and Nature.

Curator Dr Rebecca Birrell views works by Claude Monet at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Picture date: Wednesday March 13, 2024.  (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)

A sign for the Nature gallery, including work such as “Hampstead Heath” by John Constable, warns, “Landscape paintings were also always entangled with national identity.”


“The countryside was seen as a direct link to the past, and therefore a true reflection of the essence of a nation. Paintings showing rolling English hills or lush French fields reinforced loyalty and pride towards a homeland,” the sign reportedly says. “The darker side of evoking this nationalist feeling is the implication that only those with a historical tie to the land have a right to belong.”

The museum’s website has a page devoted to its “Equity, diversity and inclusion” policy declaring, “We pledge that our exhibitions and displays, collections and new acquisitions, collaborations, policies, learning initiatives, projects and research programmes, partnerships, stakeholder engagement, and communications will reflect and promote equity, diversity, inclusivity, anti-racist practice and ensure access for all.”

A bridge across the River Cam between the St John’s College’s Third Court and New Court in Cambridge. (Tu xa Ha Noi via Getty Images)


This is not the first time that rural and nostalgic material from Britain’s past has been flagged as potentially dangerous.

The UK’s “Prevent” program in 2023 reportedly flagged the complete works of Shakespeare, “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien and the “Great British Railway Journeys” documentary series as works that could lead audiences toward right-wing extremism.

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Alexander Hall is an associate editor for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected].

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