Monday, 11 August 2014

Kettle's Yard - Home of Jim Ede - an 'art house'

Private Visit - Cambridge - 16th June 2014

The three black/white collages by Italo Valenti 1964
To the right: Above: Ben Nicholson Abstract Design 1934
Below: Frank Auerback R B Kitaj 1980
Table: Right to left: Fiddle Fish 1963 & the bowl 'The Wave' Lucie Rie 1971

I count myself lucky that I guide for the National Trust in a 'museum home' a place which feels so lived in that at any moment you expect the original occupiers will return. Anticipating a cheery 'Hello' and invitation to stay for tea or a cocktail and hear about their day. The atmosphere at 2 Willow Road, Hampstead is like that, welcoming and forever interesting.  Kettle's Yard on a larger scale, welcomes you, invites you in and silently accepts your awe and delight as you enter the extraordinary spaces which were home to Jim Ede and his wife Helen. 

[ Article from 2008 - Update : entry is now through a purpose-built reception/gallery area.

'a friend of artists'

Jim Ede (1895-1990) studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London for a year, he wanted to be a painter, like many of the young men of the time, he needed to earn a living. As fate would degree it was lucky for us and future artists that in 1921he joined the National Gallery as Assistant Photographer. He went on to the Tate Gallery as an Assistant where he remained until 1936, wait for it, emerging as the Tate's first curator of modern art!

Ede's original interests lay with the Renaissance but working for a national art gallery in the 20s gave him an enviable introduction to the avant garde artists of the time, the likes of Ben and Winifred Nicholson and Christopher Wood. Trips to Paris brought him into contact with Picasso, Chagall, Miro and Brancusi. A 'renewal' of view and introduction to contemporary art of the time. Being a personable chap what were initially introductions and recommendations developed into life-long friendships which were the foundation of his developing new interest and taste.
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Wrestlers relief 1914
By 1927 Ede's reputation was growing and was enhanced by arrival of a vast quantity of work by Henri Gaudier Brzeska (sculptor) at the Tate. Ede had not heard of him and the Tate did not know what to do with this 'gift' which no-one seemed to want. Brzeska had been killed in action in 1915, his work,hardly known, had been pushed from pillar to post finally landing at the Tate via the Treasury Solicitor General.  Ede realised the quality of the work and set to arranging for a friend to buy three pieces for the Tate and three for the Contemporary Art Society, the rest he bought - a bargain! Brzeskas work today can be seen at the Tate Gallery, the Musee. National d'Art moderne in Paris and Kettle's Yard. Ede went on to write a book on the sculptor, Savage Messiah, a best seller in Britain and Ken Russell made the film. Ede continued to establish the artist's international reputation by supporting exhibitions and donating works.

Painting: William Scott Pears 1979 
Sculpture: George Kennethson Forms 1968

1936 saw Jim Ede take early retirement from the Tate Gallery and move to Tangiers, building a modernist House called White Stone. Morocco was his base for 20 years all told; travelling and  lecturing on art all over Europe and the US.  It was during this period that the idea came to him to create a home which would also be an place to show works of art, a domestic setting where guests and students could relax and enjoy the works without the formality or restrictions of museum or gallery. An idea he had practiced previously in the 1920s when he opened his home in Hampstead to visitors such as Braque, Gabo, Moore and John Gielgaud. Ede had also gone on to experience this type of 'event' in private homes and public galleries in the US.

White Stone - Tangiers. Morocco
Jim and Helen lived here on and off from 1935-52
(c) The Dartington Trust Archives
Jim and his wife Helen returned to England and looked for the 'stately home' to create this concept. They were far from wealthy and were recommended to contact the President of the Cambridge Preservation Society, who offered them four tiny condemned slum dwellings! Far from the imagined stately pile! So be it, from this pile of bricks and mortar Kettle's Yard was born.
Gregorio Vardanega's plexiglass Disc c1960
Alfred Wallis - Seascapes

Connection between the old and the new - 'The Bridge' looking towards the 'cottages'   
From 1957 onwards Kettles Yard kept 'open house' to university undergraduates, these were the people he wanted to introduce to his collection, as well as encouraging local artists. Also musical evenings were very much part of this and concerts are still held at the house on a regular basis. The idea developed and grew and the University went on to continue the activity to this day in one form or another since 1966. Jim remained until1970 as 'honourary curator'. 

An extension was created in 1970 by the architects of the Royal festival Hall (Sir Leslie Martin and David Owers) it was at this point that the realisation dawned of the exact scale of Jim Ede's collection and it's diversity. Forty-four works by Ben Nicholson and one hundred paintings by Alfred Wallis. A collection of outstanding quality and importance.

Round pebbles are extraordinarily hard to find.
My last visit to the seaside only produced ovals which are not quite the same.
The tiny objet in the forefront is Toy by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska
 This house and the man whose vision created this extraordinary space for students and public to enjoy will not get the time and space he rightly deserves here. What is important, and must be mentioned -  it is not just the works of art that are to see here. Everything at Kettle's Yard is a perfectly balanced whole, the furniture, found objects, glass, light their relationship to each other become a work of art in its own right. Further reading about Jim Ede's vision can be found in A Way of Life (1984).

Painting: Ben Nicholson Bertha (no. 2) 1924
Sculpture: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Maternity 1913
Best of all is to go and see for yourself an experience like no other! Well, there are other's that rank highly too, but Kettle's Yard is exceptional.  Highly recommend the purchase of the Guide Book, lots of information and description of works, there are no labels! Plus you can sit on the chairs, couches, benches, which is a bonus, to absorb the house, art, the universe and everything.

A word used by Jim Ede in his foreword to the Guidebook is 'rapture'; he is talking about the artists of the Renaissance, for me personally, this one word describes perfectly my visit to Kettle's Yard.

Rapture [Oxford Dictionary]
A feeling of intense pleasure or joy OR

Expressions of intense pleasure or enthusiasm about something

You can hear Jim Ede in this rather wonderful recording, the way he talks is frightfully good! 

Helen's Room - the only room in the house not open to the public
during the time they lived there
Jim and Helen are mentioned briefly in this blog, but the piece is so fascinating and interesting, especially third paragraph down, that I just kept going. I hope you enjoy it too. This is what happens when you surf the internet, you can get such a high exploring above and beyond the call of the essentials!

Wallhanging: Ben Nicholson Princess (Kings and Queens) c 1933
Sculpture: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska Two Men with a Bowl 1913
There are also new exhibitions in the new gallery extension plus a shop on site -  more details here

All the photographs are my own (except for White Stone) if you would like use of them please ask permission first. Thank you.

1 comment:

  1. I visited Kettles Yard with my sculptor mother several years ago so it is a real treat to read Miss B's excellent account. I warmly endorse her encouragement to visit; simplicity itself for a day trip by train from London departing from our beautifully restored Kings Cross Station.