"Please sit in the chairs": Kettle’s Yard Museum

Kettle's Yard, sunny cottage garden

Kettle’s Yard, sunny cottage garden

When walking into Castle street, just beyond Magdalene College, Cambridge takes on the appearance of a quaint little village high street, turning off into Kettle’s Yard only adds to the rural illusion. Overlooked by the idyllic St. Peter’s church there is a small group of buildings that are now open to visitors as a historic house museum and gallery. This was the one time home of Jim and Helen Ede. Jim Ede (1895-1990) was a former curator of the Tate, and a collector and friend of many artists, Picasso and Mondriaan to name but two.

Playing with light, the interior.

Playing with light, the interior.

After living in Tangiers Ede moved to Cambridge in 1956. He acquired four cottages which were converted into a single dwelling. Through his friendships he managed to acquire many works of leading contemporary artists of the twentieth century. The collection and the house have a beautifully balanced symbiotic relationship. The limited palet used to decorate and furnish the house reflects the tonality of the art displayed within it. The occasional flash of colour in some of the paintings is counterbalanced by a vase of wild flowers, or a collection of brightly coloured crockery in a cabinet.

Combining modernist and traditional

Combining modernist and traditional

The older part of the house, the former cottages, retained their intimate scale and homely feel. Great artworks are displayed in a seemingly random way, as one might expect in a home. Found objects such as river washed pebbles or slightly tatty earthenware are treated in the same way as the art or the furniture. In fact everything is subservient to the overall game of sculpting with light. The way that light plays and changes focusses attention on specific objects or carefully balanced tableaux.

Great art in a homely context, an wonderfull little Kandinsky.

Great art in a homely context, an wonderful little Miro.

It is through this play of light that you seem to discover, as if by chance, the most delightful works by Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Juan Miro, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and many more.

Rooms and Galleries open up one after another.

Rooms and Galleries open up one after another.

Following the gift of the house to the University of Cambridge in 1966 the house was extended with a gallery addition designed by Leslie Martin in 1970. Ede continued to live at Kettle’s Yard until 1973 when he moved to Edinburgh. Although the way of exhibiting is similar in both parts of the house, the scale of the gallery is different, and the design of the the building is more obviously modernist.

The staff at the museum were very kind, and knowledgeable. We were told that all seating furniture was intended for use by visitors,  this is a beautiful element of the element of the experience. Being able to sit, contemplate and experience the play of light on the composition. Visiting Kettle’s Yard is closer in experience to visiting a private house than a museum. This is a really hard transition to navigate when homes turn into museums, Kettle’s Yard acquits itself in style.

St. Peter's Church.

St. Peter’s Church.

The old St. Peter’s church next door is part of the experience. The tiny singe cell church is now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust and has some interesting features such as an early font and the carved doorway. Here one also finds a plaque commemorating Jim Ede.