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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Marks, MA

A Brief History of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge

What is Kettle’s Yard?

Kettle’s Yard is a contemporary art gallery in Cambridge in the former house of famous art curator Jim Ede.

Kettle's Yard

Kettle’s Yard History

For connoisseurs of art and historic British design, Kettle’s Yard offers a fascinating mix of fine art and interior décor, and is imbued with the history of the university and its students. Once the home of Jim Ede, a famous curator of London’s Tate Gallery in the 1920s and ‘30s, the house is now used as a contemporary art gallery. The house and its furnishings, but for its exhibition galleries, café, and education wing, remain almost entirely as Ede left them. The integration of his personal belongings, alongside priceless artworks, creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere, which makes the museum’s standing collection itself feel like a modern art installation. This, in fact, was in some ways Ede’s intention; he remarked that he didn’t want the house to feel like a gallery or a museum, but instead wanted it to be a reflection of his ‘way of life’.

Jim Ede and his wife Helen moved to Cambridge from France in the 1950s. After a long career in the management of the visual arts, Jim hoped to settle down in the country and create a simple and atmospheric gallery for the benefit of the local students. In 1957, Jim and Helen successfully remodelled four cottages into what we now know as Kettle’s Yard. In the following years, they augmented and refined their collection, keeping the gallery open to the public every afternoon of term time, and also offering personal tours to visitors. In 1966, they officially donated Kettle’s Yard to the university, who still own it to this day.

The collection is simultaneously impressive and homely, combining fine art and sculpture with furniture and household objects. Owing to Ede’s personal associations with British artists of the early 20th century, the collection is strongly connected to British avant-garde figures (including Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Ben Nicholson) though it also contains many works by famous European artists from the period such as Joan Miró and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Ede was keen to display these works in the informal context of his home, which is why none of the artworks in the permanent collection are labelled. Each object in the museum is also carefully arranged in relation to the other objects around it, making for a holistic viewing experience which calls to mind the question of precisely what constitutes ‘fine art’.

Kettle’s Yard, however, is more than just a collection of visual arts and mid-century interior design. It also contains an up-to-date art library, which remains open during visiting hours for all patrons of the museum. Yet more exciting are the lunchtime concerts which are held in the gallery, available to book on their website.

Finally, to relax and refuel after your visit to Kettle’s Yard, make sure you check out their on-site café, The Garden Kitchen. They work closely with local caterers and suppliers, and have an impressive range of loose leaf tea to help you decompress after a busy day of art viewing.

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