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.


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.




Including a textile work


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.


There were a large number of paintings by Alfred Wallis.


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



An early Torso


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)


(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


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.

“Taking Flight” at Abbot Hall

I’ve been looking forward to the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall focusing on 5 artists from the St Ives school. We went up to Kendal on Saturday to see it and I wasn’t disappointed.

Abbot Hall’s website

The show will concentrate on five ‘middle generation’ (or, more accurately, second generation) St Ives artists who used light, space and colour to create dazzling paintings of huge power and presence.

These artists are Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Roger Hilton, Bryan Winter and Peter Lanyon. All five produced abstract works and were influenced by the landscape and human environment in and around St Ives. But their individual styles and approaches were quite different and distinctive. They are less well known than the major “stars” of the St Ives school – Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth – but there are usually a sample of their paintings in most Modern Art galleries which have a collection featuring works from St Ives artists. But this was a chance to see a larger number of works from these five artists.

Patrick Heron was born in Leeds but his family moved to Cornwall as a boy, so he grew up there. His paintings are typically composed of large areas of bright colour. This one is very typical

Patrick Heron, Red Painting October 1959, 1959

Red Painting (1959) by Patrick Heron

He is also known for his paintings composed of horizontal bands of colour

Patrick Heron ‘Horizontal Stripe Painting : November 1957 - January 1958’, 1957–8 © The estate of Patrick Heron

Horizontal Stripe Painting (November 1957 – January 1958) Patrick Heron (Picture source: Tate website)

There are stripes in some of Terry Frost’s paintings. Vertical in this case, less colurful and only one element in the composition.

Terry Frost, Straw and Purple Visage, 1958

Straw and purple visage (1959) by Terry Frost

The paintings by Bryan Winter on display were similar and typical of those of his works I’ve seen previously. Complicated patterns of colourful squiggles.

Bryan Wynter, Torrid Zone Region, 1958

Torrid Zone Region (1958) Bryan Winter

Peter Lanyon was the only native-born Cornishman of the post-war St Ives group of artists and used to claim that this gave him a connection with the landscape that the other members of the St Ives school could only aspire to.

I haven’t particularly likes paintings by Lanyon I’ve seen previously. They have tended to be painted in dark, muddy colours which is not to my taste. The Yellow Runner on display at Abbot Hall is typical of this. The sky is a pale blue and the figure of the running horse on the hillside that gives the painting its name is bright yellow. And although there is a splash of yellow and white a good two thirds of the painting is composed of dark, muddy colours which merge into each other and make it difficult to see the shapes and structure of the composition.

Peter Lanyon, The Yellow Runner, 1946

The yellow runner (1946) Peter Lanyon

However, with a significant number of Lanyon’s paintings included in the exhibition I could see that this wasn’t the case with many of his works. He used brighter colours and strong blues to represent the landscape and the sea.

I particularly liked his Sky Deep

Shy Deep (1959) by Peter Lanyon (Picture source: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge)

and Silent Coast

I also learned that Lanyon had been influenced by Nuam Gabo, who was friends with Nicholson and Hepworth and had spent  some time in St Ives. There were examples of Lanyon’s constructivist sculptures included in the exhibition

Peter Lanyon Porthleven Boats

Porthleven boats (1950-1) Peter Lanyon (Picture source:Tate website)

By being able to see a good selection of Lanyon’s works all together I was able to appreciate just why Lanyon is considered to have been a major talent. The Courtauld in London are going to be holding an exhibition in London this autumn featuring15 major paintings by Lanyon from public and private collections. This, no doubt, will bring him more attention. On the basis of what I saw in Kendal, I certainly intent to try to see it.

“Art and Life” in Leeds

Last Sunday we drove over to Leeds to visit the exhibition “Art and Life” currently showing at the Leeds Art Gallery. It’s only on until 12 January and we wanted to catch it before it finishes. Being a Sunday, and Leeds United were playing away, it was relatively quiet on the roads, and the weather was fine, so the journey over the M62 wasn’t bad at all.

The exhibition focuses on the work of Ben and Winifred Nicholson from 1920-1931. the years when they were married.

Ben and Winifred Nicholson

Ben and Winifred Nicholson in  Westmorland, early 1920s (source)

Like many male artists, Ben was something of a philanderer and in the early 1930’s started a relationship with Barbara Hepworth who he later married and then deserted for yet another woman. Winifred has been very much in the shadow of her ex-husband.  But she was a talented artist and her work deserves to be better known.

Winifred Nicholson, Summer,1928 source here

The exhibition examines their work both individually and in collaboration. The couple became close to Christopher (Kit)Wood during this period and a number of his paintings are included in the exhibition, as are paintings by  Alfred Wallis and pieces by the potter William Staite Murray. The exhibition has been curated in collaboration with art historian and curator Jovan Nicholson, who is Winifred and Ben’s grandson.

There were a large numbers of works exhibited, the majority loaned from Private Collections so this was a good opportunity to see works not normally accessible to the general public. It was a decent sized exhibition but not so big that you felt overwhelmed and "arted out".

During the period covered the Nicholsons had travelled to France and lived in Switzerland, Cumberland and then St Ives, and the structure of the exhibition followed this timeline showing works from each period. So it was possible to see how their styles evolved and also how they influenced each other. There were examples were where both Ben and Winifred (and in one case the Nicholsons and Kit Wood) had painted the same scene, a view looking towards Northrigg hill in Cumbria, and it was interesting to "compare and contrast".

Northrigg Hill

Winifred Nicholson, Northrigg Hill, c.1926

Christopher Wood Cumberland Landscape (Northrigg Hill), 1928 (source)


Ben Nicholson, Cumberland Farm, 1930

Ben and Winifred, with their son, Jake, are featured in the following picture painted by Kit Wood when they were staying together in St Ives


Christopher Wood, Fisherman’s Farewell, 1928

The development of their individual styles could also be traced. We could see Ben moving more and more into abstraction, his adoption of an earthy pallet and his use of a "weathered", "scuffed" style, and his penchant for still lives.

Ben Nicholson, Jamaique c.1925 (source here)

Winifred mainly concentrated on landscapes, with some portraits also included in the exhibition. We could also trace her increasing use of bright, but subdued, pastel colours, and how she began to favour painting pictures of flowers on window sills.


Winifred Nicholson, Flower Piece, late 1920s


The influence of Alfred Wallis on Ben and Kit Wood could also be seen. Wallis, who they met in St Ives in 1928, was a prolific, self taught naive painter who painted on any suitable materials that came to hand with paint bought from ships’ chandlers. Nicholson and Wood were influenced by his simple style and, Nicholson in particular, followed his example of painting on scraps of wood and card.


Alfred Wallis, Four Luggers and a Lighthouse c.1928

1928 (Porthmeor Beach no. 2)

Ben Nicholson, Porthmeor Beach no. 2, 1928


Christopher Wood, Le Phare, 1929

One aspect I found particularly interesting was the range of styles Kit Wood adopted. Some paintings were clearly influenced by Ben while there was a flower painting that was very reminiscent of Winifred’s style.

a still life of flowers in a vase

Christopher Wood, Flowers, 1930

There was a painting from a private collection of his then female lover, Frosca Munster (The Blue Necklace, 1926) – he’d painted her oversized, just like those paintings of women by Picasso from the early 1920’s. There was no question for me that he was copying Picasso’s style. The exhibition also included Woods’ final painting of a zebra in front of the Villa Savoy with a parachutist descending from the sky in the background. Very surreal. 

Christopher Wood, ‘Zebra and Parachute’ 1930

Christopher Wood, Zebra and Parachute 1930

Wallis’ pictures were included to illustrate his influence on Ben and Kit, so that made sense. But I really couldn’t see why Staite Murray’s pots, as nice as some of them were, were included in this exhibition. The only connection was that he was a friend of the Nicholsons. I suppose it provided some variety and allowed things to be displayed in the centre of the exhibition rooms!


William Staite Murray, Persian Garden, 1931,

The exhibition moves on to Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge soon and then to Dulwich Art Gallery in London. It would be worth the trip to see it at one of these venues  for anyone interested in the St Ives school or, the work of Winifred.. 

Kettle’s Yard


Visiting Kettle’s Yard was one of the highlights of our recent visit to Cambridge. An art gallery with a difference, it 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


In 1966 Jim donated Kettle’s Yard to the University of Cambridge, but stayed on as “honorary curator”. An extension was built which opened in 1970 as a more formal exhibition space and also for chamber concerts.

Today the tradition of the “open house” has been continued. It’s open every day except Monday, but only between 2 and 4 o’clock in the afternoon during the winter and 1.30 until 4.30 pm during the summer. Arriving at the front door, visitors have to pull the bell chord and wait for the door to be opened. We were greeted by one of the very pleasant and enthusiastic ladies (I guess they are volunteers) who introduced us to the house and explained that we were welcome to wander through at will and could sit on any of the chairs, just making sure that we didn’t disturb any of the displays.


It’s very different from a normal art gallery. It’s been left more or less the way it was when Jim and Helen were living there with furniture, books and other items. 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!



They’re not always displayed at normal eye level. There were some paintings hung low down close to the floor, which could only really be viewed either by kneeling down or by sitting in one of the many chairs scattered around the house.


There are paintings and sculptures by a large number of artists including Ben Nicholson and his first wife, and Winifred,  Barbara Hepworth, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, Joan Miro, Constantin Brancusi and Henry Moore. There’s a large number of works by the French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who died in 1915 fighting in the First World War when he was only 24. Jim bought almost his entire output in 1927, although he later donated a number of works to the French State and various institutions.


Seated Woman (1914)  by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska


Dancer (1913) by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska


Wrestlers (1913) relief by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

The week following our visit, a exhibition devoted to him was due to open in the gallery adjoining the house. It was a pity to miss it.

As well as the works of art there are displays of objects including glass, ceramics and natural objects, including collections of pebbles artistically arranged.


I particularly liked these displays , and I think that the engraving on this large pebble is definitely apt.


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I loved wandering around the rooms in the older part of the house – the original five cottages. The extension was more like a gallery space – not surprising as that was what it was designed for. It lacked the character of the older part of the house, but we enjoyed looking at the art.

Jim didn’t have much money and his collection was assembled due to the generosity of his artist friends who sold works to him at a favourable price and even made donations.  So quite a lot of the paintings are quite small, and there are quite a few earlier works from Ben Nicholson and some of the other St Ives school – purchased or donated before they made their names. There was a large number of paintings by the naive painter from St Ives, Arthur Wallis, who was discovered and championed by Nicholson and Christopher (Kit) Wood.


Two painting by Arthur Wallis


I became interested  in the St Ives school of artists just over 12 months ago and last year spent some time finding out more about them and visiting galleries where their works were on display. So it was  good to be able to see such a large number of their works on display. I was also pleased to have the opportunity to see such a comprehensive collection of sculptures and other works by  Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. I’d first come across him during a visit to the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2009 where there was an exhibition devoted to his life and work.

But it was also good to be able to see work by other artists, some of whom I’d not come across before. There are no labels or information on the pictures and sculptures in the house. This is a deliberate policy intended to allow visitors to look at the art works without prejudice and consequently be able to discover new artists or even enjoy works by artists they they may have previously said they didn’t like.

I’d heard about Winifred Nicholson before the visit, but hadn’t seen much of her work. Kettle’s Yard have ten paintings by her in their collection and several were on display during our visit. They’re mainly landscapes and still lives, painted in bright pastel colours in an impressionistic style. She’s less well known than her first husband, but deserves wider recognition.


Two pictures by Winifred Nicholson – Seascape with dinghy (1926) and Road along the Roman Wall (1926) with a Caritas(1914) by Henri Gaudier-Breska on the table between them


Two artists I discovered during the visit were William Congdon and Italo Valenti. There were several works by both of them on display, so they were clearly favourites of Jim. I‘ll have to do some further research on them both.

Congdon was an American who, after the Second World War, moved to Italy. His paintings are abstract with thick layers of paint which had been applied with a palette knife, and colours are mixed on the canvas rather than the pallet. He wrote:

Use a knife – never a brush that only compromises. A knife constructs – without tricks…. Don’t mix colors – mix ideas, feelings”


William Congdon – The Black City I (New York)


Italo Valenti. was Italian (no surprise with that name!) who specialised in abstract collages. He was introduced to Jim by Ben Nicholson with whom he’d held a joint exhibition in 1963.

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Three collages by Italo Valenti


The two hours we spent at Kettle’s Yard just seemed to disappear. There was so much to see. It’s somewhere that would repay regular visits. It’s just a pity it’s so difficult for us to get to Cambridge.

Fortunately Kettle’s Yard have an excellent website with a virtual tour and comprehensive database of the artists and their works. So I’ll have to make do with that for the time being. But that’s not as good as wandering round the real thing. So I’ll have to find an excuse to go back down there again.

Barbara Hepworth in St Ives

Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic. Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space”. (Barbara Hepworth A pictorial Autobiography Tate Publishing 1998)


One of the highlights of our holiday in Cornwall was a visit to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.

Barbara Hepworth, who was born in Wakefield, left their home in Hampstead and moved to Cornwall with her then husband,  fellow artist  Ben Nicholson, and their young family at the outbreak of the Second World War. They set up home in Carbis Bay, just up the coast from St Ives. In September 1949 she bought the Trewyn studios in the centre of the small seaside town. Initially the building was used only as a studio but, as her marriage broke down soon after, it also became her home. She continued to live there until the fire in1975 in which she died.

Hepworth asked in her will that Trewyn Studios and the adjacent garden, with a group of her sculptures placed as she wished, be permanently open to the public. Today the studio is a museum dedicated to her work, managed by the Tate.


The studio is tucked away in the back streets of the town. There are brown signs indicating the way from the town centre but, despite this, we almost walked right past the entrance.

The house was relatively small, effectively “one up one down”. The ground floor, originally the kitchen, dining room and bathroom, was mainly devoted to an exhibition of Hepworth’s life. The upstairs room, which would have been used both as a bedroom and a studio, was used to display a number of sculptures and some drawings (see here for a list of contents).


It must have been quite cramped working, living and sleeping in the house. However, there were a number of outbuildings that she used as workshops and she would also have worked in the garden. There was also a bed inside a small shed in the garden. I don’t know whether it was used by Hepworth or her assistants. I guess it would be pleasant enough sleeping here on a balmy summer’s night, but it must have been cold in there for most of the year, even though St Ives has a warmer climate than most of the rest of Great Britain.


It isn’t possible to produce large works alone, and, like most sculptors creating monumental work, Hepworth employed assistants. These included the notable St Ives school artist, Terry Frost.

The highlight of the museum is the garden. A peaceful, contemplative space (when it isn’t too crowded with visitors) planted with exotic plants and displaying a significant number of bronze sculptures. A number of casts are usually produced from the mould with metal sculptures, with a copy normally being reserved for the artist.  Although the garden isn’t massive, it doesn’t appear crowded as the sculptures are concealed to some extent by the foliage. So different works appear as you walk around the garden.

I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to get up close to the works and interact with them. With a few exceptions, it was possible to touch them to feel their surfaces and experience their sinuous curves. As they’re exposed to the elements, and not inside a sterile gallery, there are fewer concerns about people damaging them. It was even possible to get inside and walk through the aptly named large “Four square walkthrough”.


Exposure to the elements changes them due to the effects of rain, sun, wind and, in a seaside town like St Ives, salt. These changes are clearly discernable on some of the works and add to their interest. Hepworth herslf, said

“I prefer my work to be shown outside. I think sculpture grows in open light and with the movement of the sun its aspect is always changing and with space and the sky above, it can expand and breathe”  (Barbara Hepworth by Michael Shepherd, 1962)


The Tate has an interactive video tour on their website here

Before leaving the museum, we bought a leaflet showing the location of other works by Hepworth around the town. We followed the suggested trail and were able to see most of them.


"Dual Form" (1965) - In front of Guildhall


"Epidauros II" (1961) - In small park overlooking Porthminster Beach


"Rock Form" (1951) - Inside St Ives library

A BBC programme about Barbara Hepworth’s work, featuring her studio in St Ives, “The landscape of Cornwall transposed in sculpture” is available to view via the BBC digital archive