Kettle’s Yard at the Hepworth

A few years ago we visited Cambridge for a short break. One of the highlights of our stay was a visit to Kettle’s Yard, an art gallery with a difference – ‘a living place where works of art could be enjoyed’..

To repeat what I wrote at the time, Kettle’s Yard

… used to be the home of an eccentric Englishman, Jim Ede and his wife Helen. They moved to Cambridge in 1957 and bought four dilapidated cottages on the edge of the town centre, knocking them through to create a single house.

Trained as an artist, Jim had previously been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London and through his work became friends with Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth Henry Moore and other leading members of the Avant-garde art scene. Moving into their new home in Cambridge they filled it with works of art they had collected from their friends and other artists. Jim’s mission in life was to spread the word about Modern Art and held “open house” weekday afternoons during term time for students from the University, local artists and anyone else interested to see his collection.

Cambridge is a difficult place to get to from up in the North West of England. Not that far by distance but an awkward journey, so we knew it was unlikely we’d visit again unless we decided on another short break in Cambridge. So when I heard that the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield had an exhibition featuring works from Kettle’s Yard’s collection, we decided to drive over to Wakefield to have a look.

Kettle’s Yard is closed at the moment while they’re building a major extension (I hope that doesn’t spoil the unique character of the place) so a good number of works from their collection has been lent to the Hepworth and will be on show until the beginning of September. Following that, in a second presentation, from 15 September, artist Anthea Hamilton will reinstall the exhibition and also include new work that she has created in response to the Kettle’s Yard Collection and House, and a number of works by other artists that she has invited to participate.

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One of the unique aspects of Kettle’s Yard is that the works of art are scattered around the house. There are pictures, sculptures and various other objects displayed throughout the building. Paintings by important artists are hung everywhere – including in the bathroom and toilet! And they’re not always displayed in conventional locations – some paintings hung low down close to the floor, and could only be viewed either by kneeling down or by sitting in one of the many chairs scattered around the house. There were also displays of objects including glass, ceramics and natural objects, including collections of pebbles artistically arranged.

It wasn’t really possible for the Hepworth, with it’s modern, open, airy gallery spaces, to recreate these aspects of Kettle’s Yard. There was an attempt in the smaller of the two galleries devoted to the exhibition – a reading area had been created with a couple of chairs with and objects arranged in a cabinet and they had incorporated some items of furniture and displays of pebbles and other objects. But it wasn’t really the same.

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However, they were successful in displaying the art works. The nature of the gallery means it’s possible to stand back and view the pictures and sculptures without adopting an awkward posture!

So, on to the art works. There were so many excellent works that appealed to my personal tastes, so here a just some of them.

There was a good selection of works by Ben Nicholson, who was a friend of Jim Ede, showing different styles and aspects of his practice.

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Including a textile work

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There was also an attractive painting by Winifred Nicholson – his first wife – who deserves to be remembered more as an artist in her own right than who she happened to be married to for a few years. (I’m looking forward to an exhibition of her work that’s due to start at the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal in the near future).

Cyclamen and Primula was painted in 1923 in Switzerland and is very typical of her work – pastel colours used to paint flowers standing on a windowsill with a landscape in the background.

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There were a large number of paintings by Alfred Wallis.

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Jim Ede obtained much of the work of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska from the estate of Sophie Brzeska following the premature death of the brilliant French artist and Kettle’s Yard has the largest collection of his work. So, not surprisingly, there were quite a few of his sculptures included in the exhibition.

A Bird Swallowing a Fish

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An early Torso

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The little Dancer, a favourite of mine

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This Constructivist sculpture was one of three works by the Russian artist Naum Gabo that I spotted on display

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(Construction in Space : Suspended)

The other two works were abstract prints that reminded me of pictures of outer space – unfortunately reflections in the glazed frames made them impossible to photograph but they can be viewed on the Kettle’s Yard website. I particularly liked Opus 9 (W/E 57)

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(Image from Kettle’s Yard collection website)

A stone ware jar (The Heron) by William Staite-Murray

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The Kettle’s Yard Collection website tells us that

It is said to have been broken by David Jones while visiting Ede’s home in London, and it was subsequently mended in gold by Staite Murray himself, adopting a traditional Japanese technique.

and the cracks filled with gold were visible on close inspection. (This was pointed out to me during an enjoyable and informative conversation by one of the gallery invigilators).

I liked this text based work, Quia per Incarnati by David Jones, an engraver, printer, poet and essayist, who was associated with Eric Gill’s communities of artists and craftsmen in Sussex and Wales in the 1920s

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All in all this was an enjoyable exhibition. It can’t, and doesn’t, recreate the quirky atmosphere of Kettle’s Yard. But it provided us with an opportunity to revisit art works that would be otherwise difficult to see and  look at them in a different way in a more “conventional” setting. And it also brought back memories of our visit to Jim Ede’s house.

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3 thoughts on “Kettle’s Yard at the Hepworth

  1. Interesting visit. Good to know that Kettle Yard collection in good hands. All those interested in art in Cambridge hope that ‘The major extension doesn’t spoil the unique character of the place’. Jim Ede’s Cornish artist friend was Alfred Wallis!!

  2. Pingback: New Year 2017 at the Hepworth | Down by the Dougie

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