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Ben Nicholson Mugs (c) Kettles Yard

Ben Nicholson Mugs (c) Kettles Yard

Kettle’s Yard comes to Hastings

Kettle’s Yard is the home of a great modern art collection in Cambridge. However, while the gallery is undergoing a major development, it is working with various organisations to house the exhibits in different places – like the Jerwood. HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths went along to see how the forty Cambridge artworks worked with the Jerwood’s own collection.

Kettle’s Yard was the inspiration of Jim Ede back in the 1950s. A teenage visit to the Louvre had inspired in him a love of painting and a career in art. He studied at the Slade, leaving after a year and later became Assistant Curator at the Tate. Ede was an early enthusiast of the contemporary art scene and in the 1920s tried to persuade the Gallery to acquire avant garde artists’ works, such as Picasso. However, he came up against conventional art establishment figures who, considering such artists as flashes in the pan, would not countenance purchasing their work. The Tate seems to have been the loser, which is why critics believe there are so few prime examples of those 1920s artists represented in the Tate collection.

Ede had a good eye, but also had the great advantage of being around at the time of the artistic explosion of the1920s. Being of a similar age and sensibility, he befriended the Parisian artists – and then later British artists like Nicholson, Christopher Wood, William Scott – and acquired their work.

He maintained that art strongly contributes to the value of life. “Art is the touchstone of our civilisation, the manifestation of our culture … it is as much an individual living force as human beings ourselves.”

It was never Ede’s intention to build a regular gallery. Kettle’s Yard was conceived as essentially a harmonious space with art that fed all the senses: furniture, sculpture, ceramics, stones, shells, feathers, natural objects, music, all put into a homely context. Created out of four derelict cottages, what made Kettle’s Yard particularly special was Ede’s appreciation of light: the play of light and shadow in the spaces and objects drawn on the wall in shadow, pointing up a chair or a sculpture.

The Jerwood has previously borrowed work from Kettle’s Yard: the naïve paintings of Alfred Wallis. But this exhibition, at 40 artworks, is a much bigger loan. Juxtaposing the same artists from the two collections side by side – Ben Nicholson. Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Barbara Hepworth – certainly embellishes the Jerwood’s own collection.

Ben Nicholson Musical Instruments

Ben Nicholson Musical Instruments

There is a room of both Ben and Winifred Nicholson. Ben Nicholson’s paintings at that time were landscapes of muddy, earthy colours; a bewitching nude half torso, child-like animals in a field. It is interesting to compare the different expressions of the two artists. Having to lug all their art paraphernalia, they tended to stay close to home, so similar views of their house in Banks Head, Cumberland can be compared. Then in the next room, Ben Nicholson’s work gives way to abstract work: fresh white and reds appear. However, for all Ede’s interest in contemporary art, he had some difficulty with Nicholson’s move into abstraction which is apparently why there aren’t more examples of his later work.

Christopher Wood Boy with Cat

Christopher Wood Boy with Cat

Christopher Wood, an opium addict, lived hard, died young. Some of his work is extraordinarily calm: a self portrait painted against the backdrop of Paris; another of a young man with a Siamese cat, claws outstretched, sitting on his lap, blue eyes of both cat and man staring directly ahead. Others are surreal, possibly painted under the influence of opium. Two are almost as if he foresees his death: the painting of the skeletal hull of fishing boat with fishermen’s widows nearby; and a painting of the oracle of Ulysses, showing Ulysses bound to a mast to protect him from the deadly call of the Sirens.

This imagined death wish was echoed by Ben Nicholson, who was deeply affected by Wood’s death. He wrote to Jim Ede, “I am so sad about Kit. I miss him more than I can say. I could have parted with almost anyone but him, he was the most beautiful creature … [he must) have wanted to go very much.”

European artists like Brancusi and Braque influenced British artists. There is Braque’s Le Cygne Volant, a fluid white swan, piercing a black and blue sky.  There is Brancusi’s beautiful silver blade of a Golden Fish, brass reflected into a steel disc base alongside Hepworth’s small sculptures of threes – a magical number – as well as being redolent of her and Ben Nicholson’s triplets. An almost sculptural painting of sturdy Braahmin Bulls by Henri Gautier Brzeska. Earthy, natural Cornish coloured abstracts by Hilton. Wonderful two dimensional, simple paintings of pots and pans by William Scott – pure lines unembellished with anything other than the shape of the objects.

There is a stunning Henry Moore miniature head worked out of stone. So unassuming you could dismiss it, but it is that very simplicity that spoke, if not shouted, to me. As faces are assymetric, dissimilar, one profile is quite beautiful, the other almost plain. Stones have a particular quality to me, as they did evidently to Ede. “A stone, however, carved, is first and foremost a stone” He adds. “It is hard to think of it being made – it just is.”

And that ‘it just is’, feels appropriate to the whole sense of Kettle’s Yard.

Home from Home is on at  the Jerwood Gallery  until 3 January 2016 Open Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm. 

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Posted 13:05 Tuesday, Sep 22, 2015 In: Visual Arts

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