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Jim Ede and Kettle's Yard

Kettle's Yard in Cambridge houses one of the best-loved collections of Modern Art in the UK, including numerous paintings by Alfred Wallis and others associated with St Ives. Curator, Sebastiano Barassi describes its history.



Harold Stanley ['Jim'] Ede was born on 7 April 1895 near Cardiff. He attended the Leys School in Cambridge, studied painting at Newlyn Art School and, after service in the First World War, attended the Slade School of Art in London. Writing about the formation of Kettle's Yard, Ede mentions that, although the early inspiration came from his meeting with Ben and Winifred Nicholson in 1924, his love for painting and his desire to become a painter started well before that: 'I was 15 at the Leys School in Cambridge and fell in love with early Italian painting . . . and before that at thirteen when I first visited the Louvre, saw nothing, but fell for Puvis de Chavannes . . .'



Leaving the Slade after one year, Jim Ede worked in the photographic department of the National Gallery, London, while continuing to paint. He was then appointed Assistant at the Tate Gallery, London, a change he describes as 'phenomenal': 'I gave up painting and became absorbed in the work of contemporary artists. I wrote a great deal about modern painting and sculpture, and came to know most of the leading artists of the day, and also the ones who were not yet known.'

It was while at the Tate that he formed important friendships with Ben Nicholson, David Jones and other artists. Much of his collection was acquired over five decades through these friendships. Moreover, in 1927 Jim purchased a substantial body of works by the French sculptor, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who had been killed in World War I: 'A great quantity of his work was dumped in my office at the Tate.' This was from the estate of Sophie Brzeska, the partner of the sculptor.



Soon after, Nicholson and Wood introduced Ede to the work of St Ives fisherman-turned-painter Alfred Wallis. In the following decade he and Wallis exchanged numerous letters (some preserved in the Kettles Yard archive), and Jim acquired over one hundred of the artist's paintings and drawings.

In 1935-36 Ede resigned from the Tate and built a house on the outskirts of Tangier, Morocco. During the war years Jim travelled to the USA, with Helen, on lecture tours, with funds raised being contributed to Allied War Relief. They lived in Morocco until 1952 when they moved to Les Charlottières, Chailles, near Amboise in the Loire Valley, France.

In 1956 Jim and Helen came to Cambridge in search of a 'stately home'. What they found instead were four tumbledown cottages nestling beneath the ancient church of St Peter. With the help of architect Roland Aldridge, Ede restored and substantially remodelled them.



Kettle's Yard was originally conceived with students in mind. Jim Ede envisaged creating 'a living place where works of art could be enjoyed . . . where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery.'

Jim Ede kept 'open house' every afternoon of term, personally guiding his visitors around his home. In 1966 he gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge. In 1970, three years before the Edes retired to Edinburgh, the house was extended, and an exhibition gallery added, both to the design of the architects Sir Leslie Martin and David Owers.



Given the care devoted by Jim to the display of objects and artworks and to creating subtle 'conversations' between them, it is important that since his departure the house has been preserved virtually unchanged. Today many consider it a work of art in its own right.

Jim and Helen Ede left for Edinburgh in 1973, where Helen died in 1977; Jim spending the last years of his life as a hospital visitor until his death in 1990.



Kettle's Yard is open to the public on afternoons Tues - Sun. For more information go to www.kettlesyard.co.uk