Foundation and buildings
View of one of the museum's entrance halls
The museum was founded in 1816 with the legacy of the library and art collection of Richard FitzWilliam, 7th Viscount FitzWilliam. The bequest included £100,000 "to cause to be erected a good substantial museum repository". The Fitzwilliam now contains over 500,000 items and is one of the best museums in the United Kingdom. The collection was initially placed in the Perse School building in Free School Lane. It was moved in 1842 to the Old Schools in central Cambridge, which housed the Cambridge University Library.
The "Founder's Building" was built during the period 1837-1843 to the designs of George Basevi, completed by C. R. Cockerell. The foundation stone of the new building was laid by Gilbert Ainslie in 1837. The museum opened in 1848. The Palladian Entrance Hall, by Edward Middleton Barry, was completed in 1875. A further large bequest was made to the University in 1912 by Charles Brinsley Marlay, including £80,000 and 84 paintings from his private collection. A two-storey extension to the south-east, paid for partly by the Courtauld family, was added in 1931, greatly expanding the space of the museum and allowing research teams to work on site.
The museum buildings and, separately, the boundary along the street frontage, are Grade I listed.