The Visual Arts and Music Celebrated in the Context of a Home

Jim Ede’s bedroom table © Paul Allitt/Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University.

This week we are returning to Kettle’s Yard which holds one of the most important collections of 20th century art in the country in its beautiful interiors, the better for being in the context of a home. It has always been open to students and visitors.

Jim Ede, its creator, was a remarkable man who promoted many leading British and Continental artists in the 20th century. In 1954 whilst living abroad he dreamed of creating a living place where works of art could inspire and bring joy in a domestic, relational setting. The generous discipline of his rhythm of life would result in a sequence of rooms and spaces which form a series of 360 ̊ processional compositions.

Jim Ede would write ‘Kettle’s Yard is in no way meant to be an art gallery or a museum, nor is it simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste, or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, 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 to us.’

Ede acknowledged the importance of Ben Nicholson in shaping his taste in the 1920s.

View of Jim Ede’s bedroom with works by Alfred Wallis, Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson © Paul Allitt/Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University.

Jim Ede’s bedroom is perhaps the most personal room in the house. The room reflects the life, interests and relationships of this gifted connoisseur and critic. His intuitive placing of objects is reflective and disciplined which blesses the viewer with a sense of stillness, of being gathered, whilst exciting the eye and our imaginations. It is a space for lively questioning minds and open hearts.

Above the head of his bed hang two Alfred Wallis paintings ‘Five Ships (Mount’s Bay)’ and ‘Houses at the water’s edge (Portleven)’. Jim Ede delighted in Wallis’ directness and simplicity of language born out of a lack of formal training. Wallis, a fisherman, painted on scraps of wood and card with unevenly applied boat paint giving expression to his memories of the scene. His distorted perspective gives the viewer a sense of being amongst the boats. These qualities and his restrained palette lend his work an extraordinary immediacy. On a ledge beside his bed is an early Henry Moore Head carved from Shakespeare’s Head Cliff chalk. Jim Ede would write about its ‘still energy’ commenting ‘I have always loved this Henry Moore which he gave me so long ago’. Henry Moore, like Gaudier-Brzeska, was influenced by non-Western primitive forms and the bust ties in with the ‘domesticated primitive’ aesthetic which emerged after the Great War. Beside it rests the small ‘Abstract’ dating from 1941 by his friend Ben Nicholson. Through the open doorway in the bathroom a George III provincial oak chest of drawers adds warmth and balance to the aesthetic of the space.

Jim Ede installed bay windows in the cottage at Kettle’s Yard to improve the effects of light. In the bay window of his bedroom is this circular pine table with a wrought iron base. Low down on the wall beside it you can see an etching by Ben Nicholson. An eclectic still life of concentric graduated pebbles give voice to an incoming tide the grain in the wood echoing the movement of the water across sand, a scallop shell, a spherical green glass float, flowers, all speak of the importance of found and natural objects at Kettle’s Yard. Amongst them you can see a small bronze by Henri Gaudier-Brzseka titled ‘Toy’.

Jim Ede hoped ‘that future generations will still find a home and a welcome, a refuge of peace and order, of the visual arts and of music’ at Kettle’s Yard. His hopes have been fulfilled. To find out more visit

A Way of Life Informed by Beautiful Objects

Kettle’s Yard’s upstairs house extension © Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge University

In this, the first of two articles, we are visiting one of my favourite collections and spaces, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. The spirit of the place is born out of the gentle, generous and persistent creativity of Jim Ede, the man who put it all together.

Jim Ede would describe the house and collection as reflecting a way of life, of being, expressing the joy and stability in being accompanied in life by beautiful objects be they humble stones or paintings and sculptures by some of the most important artists of the 20th century. It reflects Jim Ede’s relationships with a group of Modern British artists whose thinking often influenced him, and his personal desire to share it with others.

Reflecting on the inspiration for Kettle’s Yard Jim Ede wrote ‘I suppose it began by my meeting with Ben and Winifred [Nicholson] in 1924 or thereabouts, while I was an Assistant at the Tate Gallery…it wasn’t until I was nearly thirty that the Nicholson’s opened a door into the world of contemporary art and I rushed headlong into the arms of Picasso, Brancusi and Braque without losing my rapture over Giotto, Angelico, Monaco and Piero della Francesca.’ Ede saw a continuity between the early Italians and Ben Nicholson’s work.

In 1926 Jim Ede purchased most of the studio contents of the French artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who had been killed in action in 1915. He published ‘The Savage Messiah’ which established the artist’s place in art history whilst ensuring that examples of his work were acquired for Tate and the Contemporary Art Society.
The artist Winifred Nicholson taught him about the ‘fusing of art and daily living’, of holiness in the everyday and its tasks, whilst the artist David Jones, who worked at Ditchling in Sussex for a time, gave him a vocabulary to articulate the ephemeral. Jim Ede’s expression of faith, his spirituality, combined the generous discipline of practical work with reflection, invitation, hospitality, balance and a celebration of beauty which resonates with me as a Benedictine.
In 1970 the extension to Kettle’s Yard was opened creating a space where concerts could be held and which visitors could inhabit. The English Georgian and provincial pieces of furniture, together with the welcoming armchairs, sit comfortably alongside the exceptional 20th century paintings and sculpture in that eclectic, layered way which defines the British interior at its best.

It was Ben Nicholson who introduced Jim Ede to the work of the St Ives fisherman and artist Alfred Wallis. A selection of Wallis’ work would regularly arrive by post and whilst Ede could not afford to buy all that was offered he acquired enough to line several walls as you can see here.

Ede created vistas and layered perspectives in these interiors by the careful and intentional placing of art and objects which interact with each other, the changing light and viewpoints at Kettle’s Yard in a series of extraordinary, processional compositions.

In the foreground is Gaudier-Brzeska’s bronze ‘Garden Ornament’ which Jim Ede has typically filled with stones, and in the distance, to the right, the artist’s 1912 bronze study ‘Maria Carmi as the Madonna’. Our eye is drawn to Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Three Personages’. At the heart of this composition on the far wall is Winifred Nicholson’s large landscape which Jim Ede described as ‘a great world of beauty’. The landscape with its English lane would have been painted from life. Winifred worked quickly completing a canvas in a single siting. The broad areas of colour are made more intense by the white paint used to prime the canvas.

The balance in the composition of the space would be diminished if any one piece were not there.

This exceptional and very personal collection reflects the generous creativity of Jim Ede. Next week we will be returning to Kettles Yard to explore some of the more intimate spaces in the house to explore the relationships between artist and patron. To find out more about Kettle’s Yard visit