Honor Clerk

Jim Ede and the glories of Kettle’s Yard

Laura Freeman celebrates a great collector with an unerring eye for good ‘stuff’

‘Pier Hotel, Chelsea’, by Christopher Wood, 1927, from the Kettle’s Yard Collection. [Bridgeman Images]

Jim Ede started early. At the age of 12 he used £8 of his hard-won savings to buy a Queen Anne desk. No bicycle, air pistol or football for him: this solid piece of old furniture was the thing, the first step in a long life of acquiring objects that lived, breathed and spoke to him. To call him a compulsive collector is to understate the passion that over the years saw the desk followed by an avalanche of stuff, from porcelain and glasses to pebbles and feathers, textiles and above all paintings, drawings and sculpture. Each acquisition admired, loved, cherished and shared for its uniqueness – what Gerard Manley Hopkins would have called its ‘instress’.

Ede welcomed students to Kettle’s Yard and even lent them works of art 

Beyond the things, Ede also collected people – painters, sculptors, other collectors, students, servicemen – and houses.  In Hampstead, in Tangier, and above all at his Kettle’s Yard home in Cambridge, he arranged his collections and entertained people in exquisite spaces. Ways of Life is the many-stranded story of Ede’s life and of the lives of the artists most closely associated with him. 

Ede was born in 1895, the son of a solicitor father and a Welsh Wesleyan mother who taught classics. His rather disjointed education included a spell in France, a short stay at the Leys in Cambridge, a term or two at Newlyn College of Art and another at Edinburgh, before he was engulfed by the first world war. Serving as an officer with the South Wales Borderers on the Ypres Salient, he was gassed, shelled and witnessed all the horrors the Western Front had to offer until he was invalided out with trench gastritis and neurasthenia, complaints which would trouble him for the rest of his life.

After the war, it took another spell at art school – the Slade this time – to bring home to Ede that he was no artist.

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