In 1993 I went to Cambridge for a day-out with Peter Ackroyd, who was writing a catalogue essay on my paintings. I remember enjoying the Fitzwilliam Museum, though I scarcely appreciated it then, and Kettles Yard, former home of Jim Ede, champion of the avant-garde and author of one the best books on an artist, Savage Messiah: the memoir of Gaudier-Brezeska. I revisited Cambridge recently, at the invitation of a friend, and found Ede’s house more magical than I remembered. It is only open for a couple of hours a day, just as it was when Ede lived there. It is actually three small cottages knocked together to make one rambling space and you ring a tinkling bell on a pull-cord to gain entry. It is a gentle place, all natural wood, pale creams and off-whites; grey stones are arranged artfully on table-tops and the bay windows are hung with lights and crystals so that when the sun is shining beads of light reflect around the creamy whiteness. It is left much as Ede enjoyed it, and best visited on a hot summer’s day when it turns into a place of cool refuge.
It houses Ede’s fine collection of early-twentieth century artists, and the bleached colours punctuated by Miro and Ben Nicholson paintings. It’s probably not a place for a flying visit; it’s small but marvellously labyrinth and a place to linger, with hidden treasures. It is the best place, perhaps the only place, to experience Gaudier-Brezeska’s sculpture and drawings; particularly in the attic room full of Gaudier’s drawings, where his scowling portrait of Ezra Pound dominates, and throughout the house his sculptures Bird Swallowing a Fish, Red-Stone Dancer, and The Wrestlers (above), and a small but brilliant sculpture of a Dog on the stairs. There is sadness in this work when one understands Gaudier’s inquiring mind was cut so cruelly short in the trenches of the Great War. But Kettles Yard is not a dead museum and is often home to contemporary work, including film and video. Michael-Craig Martin no less has just painted one room puce pink, which shocks amongst the drift-wood, and under an arts and craft’s bench sits an installation of plastic coffee-cups, twisted and torn into shapes. So the house is a show-case, but it is also very much in use, in a way that Ede would have approved of.