The Legacy of Kettle’s Yard

1. House extension, downstairs Showing Italo Valenti’s collages (1964) and Lucie Rie’s bowl ‘The Wave’ (1971)

Looking at the origins of Kettle’s Yard in 1957, it is hard to imagine the legacy it has become. Although Jim Ede would have preferred a stately home, he was offered 4 tiny condemned slum dwellings from the president of the Cambridge Preservation Society.

The actual origins predate this. On first appearance it was his meeting Ben and Winifred Nicholson in about 1924 while he was an assistant at the Tate Gallery. In fact, it was a visit to the Louvre at 13 years of age and access to the Free Library at the Fitzwilliam at 15 where his love of early Italian painting began and started him on his collector’s journey.

This collection is also a personal journey of circumstance and chance meetings. It was Ben Nicholson who introduced Ede to contemporary art. He was able to purchase unsold Nicholson paintings for the price of the canvas and frame for the price of one to three pounds when he could afford it. Some, Nicholson gave him.

In 1926 his position at the Tate brought him into contact with Alfred Wallis. Again, he bought as many paintings as he could afford.

His collection of work from the estate Henri Gaudier-Brzeska was acquired “for a song” because nobody else wanted it.

Now the collection contains work by over 100 artists also including Joan Miró, Constantin Brancusi, Naum Gabo, Christopher Wood, Barbara Hepworth, David Jones, Henry Moore and Italo Valenti (one of my personal favourites).

I’m amazed at the foresight and humanity of Jim Ede. Ede describes Kettle’s Yard as “a continuing way of life from the last 50 years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculptures, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability which more and more we need to recognise if we are not to be swamped by all that is so rapidly opening up before us.” These words are as relevant today as when they were written. Maybe more so.

The atmosphere of the house is exceptional through the mix of art and found objects. Through Ede’s nature collections we are reminded that this space is personal, home. The library is Ede’s actual library. All books are available to study. This in keeping with the open house tradition.

From 1957 to 1973 when the Ede’s lived there, their home was open to visitors every afternoon. Kettle’s Yard, today, continues in this spirit. It is a place to spend hours of discovery and well worth visiting again and again. A wonderful place to use and be.

In the new gallery Antony Gormley SUBJECT uses the space and architecture to show 5 works into which we are drawn, become participants or maybe even the subject (?).

It’s well worth watching the BBC documentary, imagine … Anthony Gormley: Being Human to gain tremendous insight into Gormley’s life and work. (Shown Thursday to Sunday.)

Antony Gormley SUBJECT runs until 27 August.

Kettle’s Yard
University of Cambridge
Castle Street

+44 (0)1223 748 100

Visit Kettle’s Yard website for more information.

Esther Boehm

Further photo information:
3. House cottages, downstairs Jim Ede’s bedroom table
4. House extension, upstairs Designed by Sir Leslie Martin, opened in 1970
7. Showing the Buddha from the Prang Sam Yot Temple, Lopburi, Thailand (13th or 14th century) and works by Mario Sironi, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Ben Nicholson
8. House extension, upstairs showing Winifred Nicholson’s ‘Roman Road’ (1927)
10. Installation view Antony Gormley SUBJECT © Antony Gormley
11. INFINTE CUBE © Antony Gormley

Photos 1, 2, 3, 4, 7 & 8 © Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge
Photos 3, 7 & 8 by Paul Allitt
Photos 5, 6 & 9 by Helena Anderson
Photos 10 & 11 by Benjamin Westoby