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Real Families: Stories of Change

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6 October 2023 - 7 January 2024

'The artists capture unfiltered family life: the joy and affection but also the tension, hostility and estrangement.' - The Guardian

'emotional, confrontational work.' – The Telegraph

Family. It seems like such a simple, familiar concept. And yet the past fifty years have brought far-reaching changes to how families are formed, and how they endure. Some of these changes reflect innovations in science and technology, while others speak to a new acceptance of long suppressed and silenced identities and communities.

Bringing together more than 120 artworks spanning painting, photography, sculpture and film, Real Families: Stories of Change asks us to consider what makes a family today, and the impact our families have on us, through the eyes of contemporary artists.

Alongside major UK and international loans, the exhibition also features historic works by artists including Joshua Reynolds, Nicolas Poussin and Albrecht Dürer to reveal how family life has been portrayed throughout art history. Works by contemporary artists such as Aliza Nisenbaum and JJ Levine challenge the traditional notion of family as made up of two married heterosexual parents and their biological children, while portraits by Celia Paul and Lucian Freud remind us that every family changes over time.

Artists Jim Goldberg, Tracey Emin and Paula Rego are among those whose work challenges the typical ideas of ‘happy’ and ‘unhappy’ families, instead revealing how families are a product of relationships between family members and the environments they live in. Cathy Wilkes, Hardeep Pandhal and others look at how each family leaves its imprint on the next generation – through biological, social and cultural influences.

A spotlight on artist Chantal Joffe brings together ten of her paintings made over the past two decades, capturing the joys, tensions and complexities of her family experience and inviting us to explore the intricacies of modern family relationships.

Developed in collaboration with the world-leading Centre for Family Research in Cambridge, Real Families shows us that what matters most is not the make-up of the family but the quality of family relationships and the social world in which the family exists.


This exhibition includes art works that explore all aspects of family life, including themes of separation, loss and harm.

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Image: Chantal Joffe, Me, Em and Nat, 2019. Oil on board © Chantal Joffe. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro.

Exhibition files and maps

Frequently asked questions

Is the exhibition free to visit?

Yes, tickets for our exhibitions are free

Do I need a ticket to visit the exhibition?

Save time on arrival and pre-book your free ticket through our website. If you do not have a pre-booked ticket, you are still welcome to visit. Tickets are available at both of the Museum’s entrances and can be booked upon your arrival.  

I also want to visit the Black Atlantic exhibition, do I need a separate ticket?

Yes. Each exhibition requires its own ticket. All tickets are free. If you are a Friend of the Fitzwilliam, you no longer need to book a ticket, simply bring along your card on the day and scan it to enter the exhibition.

Is there a limit on how long I can spend in the exhibition?

There is no time limit to entry in our exhibitions. You are welcome to spend as much time as you want exploring the objects and spaces. 

How many tickets can I book at once?

You can book a maximum of 15 tickets in one transaction. For groups larger than 15, please contact our Events team:

How do I make a group booking?

For groups larger than 15, please contact our Events team:

What are the exhibition opening times and when is last admission?

The exhibition is open during normal Museum opening hours. We're open Tuesday - Saturday: 10:00 - 17:00. Sundays and Bank Holidays: 12:00 - 17:00. The last ticketed timeslot will be 16:15. The exhibition is closed 24 - 26 December 2023 and 1 January 2024.

Can I change the date of my ticket after booking?

If you're no longer able to make the date and time you booked, please contact us by email:

Can I take photographs in the exhibition?

You can take photographs in the Museum for non-commercial, personal use only. Full details of our photography and filming policy are available on our website. 

I'm a journalist who wants to come and visit the exhibition, how do I arrange?

If you have a media enquiry about the exhibition, or want to request images and footage for use in the press, please contact our Press team:

I'm a member, do I still need to book a ticket?

No. If you are a Friend of the Fitzwilliam or a member of the Marlay Group, you no longer need to book a ticket, simply bring along your card on the day and scan it to enter the exhibition.

How can I join as a new member?

For details on becoming a member of the Fitzwilliam Museum, visit our website:

Why is the Fitzwilliam Museum doing this exhibition?

To explore artists’ depictions of family over the past half-century, a time of enormous change for the family and our understanding of what family can encompass.

Where has the research come from?

'Real Families: Stories of Change', is a collaboration between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Centre for Family Research in Cambridge.

Does the exhibition explore subjects which could be triggering and upsetting for some people?

This exhibition includes art works that explore all aspects of family life, including themes of separation, loss and harm. At the end of the show, there is a list of details for support organisations who work in some of the areas covered by the exhibition.

Why is the Museum including potentially triggering and upsetting subjects in the exhibition?

We are trying to open up difficult conversations about topics that are often not discussed or are seen as taboo. Although potentially upsetting, many people find it helpful to find their own difficult experiences included in an exhibition such as this. They say they find it validating and it makes them feel less alone. It can be helpful to know that others have had similar experiences.

Is this exhibition suitable for children?

Everyone is welcome to visit the exhibition, including children. A content notice will be available at the start of the entrance to highlight the exhibition’s key themes and topics. This exhibition includes art works that explore all aspects of family life, including themes of separation, loss and harm.

Who is the curator?

Susan Golombok is a Professor Emerita of Family Research, former Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, and an Affiliated Researcher at the Fitzwilliam Museum. She has pioneered research on modern families, including families created by assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF, donor insemination, egg donation and surrogacy, as well as families with same-sex parents, transgender parents, and single parents by choice. Her research challenges commonly held assumptions about these families and has contributed to policy and legislation on the family nationally and internationally. Her most recent book, We Are Family, shows that what matters most for children is the quality of family relationships rather than the structure of the family in which they grow up.

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