Kettle’s Yard


In August, we visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge for the first time. Ross knew all about the place and had been wanting to visit for ages, but it was new to me, and quite a wonderful discovery. I am very behind on my blog posts. There are a few partially written posts but here’s one that has been sitting in the pending pile for a couple of months.

Kettle’s Yard is the University of Cambridge’s modern and contemporary art gallery but it is so much more than that.

‘One of the country’s most intimate and spellbinding museums, the collection of one man and his unerring eye; restorative, homely yet life-changing.’— Mark Fisher, Britain’s Best Museums and Galleries, 2004

The house itself was the home of Jim and Helen Ede from 1957 through to his retirement in 1973. Ede had been to school in Cambridge and trained as an artist at the Stanhope Forbes Academy in Newlyn, Edinburgh School of Art and the Slade. During his career as a curator at the Tate and the National Gallery he worked tirelessly to promote the work of modern artists such as Picasso, Chagall and Brancusi, many of whom he struck up lasting friendships with. When he returned to Cambridge in 1956, he converted 4 derelict cottages into the one house, Kettle’s Yard. This allowed Jim to execute his vision of

‘…a great house on the verge of a city – or a place of beauty in a town (Cambridge I have in mind) + make it all that I could of lived in beauty, + each room an atmosphere of quiet and simple charm + open to the public (in Cambridge to students especially).’ Jim Ede


Kettle’s Yard was opened to university students every weekday afternoon during term-time, and of course housed the Ede’s growing collection of contemporary art. A visit to Kettle’s Yard splits neatly into two parts – the house and the wonderful temporary exhibition spaces, expanded and reopened last year. The house itself is a joy, and arranged largely as Jim and Helen left it. The collection includes paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. The art is hung not as it would be in a gallery, but where it could be viewed and appreciated whilst living in the house. Why shouldn’t you hang a picture under a window if it is in the eye-line from your favourite bentwood rocker? This eccentricity brings the collection alive and offers us a window into Jim and Helen’s life. Another aspect of their appetite for collecting can be seen in the groups of glass and ceramics, stones, seeds and other natural objects that are placed around the house with equal care. Ross and I could quite happily move in tomorrow!

There are two large temporary exhibition spaces in the new wing, which also houses the education centre (spread over 4 floors), shop and cafe and was designed by Jamie Fobert Architects. On our visit there were two fascinating shows. The first exhibition was the work of the ceramicist Jennifer Lee. A beautiful show, more on which will hopefully follow in a subsequent post. The second was ‘Artist: Unknown‘, an exhibition of art and artifacts from the University collection which are unattributed to any artist or craftsman. A fascinating exhibition, the show asked the question:

‘From the ancient to the contemporary, the way we engage with art has revolved around the cult of the individual. But what happens when we don’t know who made something?’

Kettle’s Yard is unique – a house with a wonderful collection of 20th Century art and a modern complementary exhibition space and education centre. I cannot recommend a visit enough, and indeed our only complaint was a disappointing piece of quiche.

Text and images © Jonathan Dredge.



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