Papers of Harold Stanley 'Jim' Ede

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive at Kettle’s Yard forms part of the core permanent collection given to the University of Cambridge by H S ‘Jim’ Ede in 1966. It documents the development of the House and collections; Ede’s activities and interactions with artists and other key figures over much of the 20th century; and the ongoing work of Kettle’s Yard as a leading centre for modern and contemporary art.

Administrative / Biographical History

Harold Stanley ['Jim'] Ede was born on 7 April 1895 near Cardiff. He attended the Leys School in Cambridge, studied painting at Newlyn Art School and, after service in the First World War, attended the Slade School of Art in London. In 1921, Jim Ede married Helen Schlapp, the daughter of a professor of German at Edinburgh University, and found work in the photographic department of the National Gallery in London. The following year, he was appointed Assistant at the Tate Gallery, London, a change he describes as 'phenomenal':

'I gave up painting and became absorbed in the work of contemporary artists. I wrote a great deal about modern painting and sculpture, and came to know most of the leading artists of the day, and also the ones who were not yet known.'

It was while at the Tate that he formed important friendships with Ben and Winifred Nicholson, David Jones, Christopher Wood and other artists, and began collecting their work. He made trips to Paris that allowed him to meet key avant-garde artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, and Constantin Brancusi. He was also able to acquire the greater part of the estate of Sophie Brzeska, the partner of the sculptor, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who had been killed in the First World War. Ede strongly believed in the quality of Gaudier-Brzeska's work, and made it his mission to promote it, including through his best-selling book, 'Savage Messiah', and through supporting exhibitions and donating works of public collections in Britain and France. He also served as Secretary of the Contemporary Arts Society.

It was while living at 1 Elm Row, Hampstead, in the 1920s and 1930s, that Ede began the practice of opening his house and engaging with new visitors. His guests included a great variety of artists, musicians, actors and literary figures, such as Georges Braque, Sergei Diaghilev, Vaslav Nijinsky, Naum Gabo, John Gielgud, Henry Moore, and Ben and Winifred Nicholson.

In 1936, Ede retired due to persistent ill health, and began spending part of the year in Tangier, Morocco. He commissioned a modernist house there, called 'White Stone', where he and Helen lived until 1952. During the war years, Jim travelled to the USA, with Helen, on lecture tours to raise funds for Allied War Relief. It was during this period that he came to know Richard Pousette-Dart and William Congdon. The Edes also opened their house in Tangier to servicemen on leave from Gibraltar, providing weekend retreats. In 1952, motivated by a desire to be nearer to their children, they moved to Les Charlottières, Chailles, near Amboise in the Loire Valley, France.

It was during this time that Ede 'found [himself] dreaming of the idea of somehow creating a living place where works of art could be enjoyed, inherent to the domestic setting, where young people could be at home unhampered by the greater austerity of the museum or public art gallery and where an informality might infuse and underlying formality. I wanted, in a modest way, to use the inspiration I had had from beautiful interiors, houses of leisured elegance, and to combine it with the joy I had felt in individual works seen in museums, and with the all embracing delight I had experienced in nature, in stones, in flowers, in people.'

In 1956, the Edes moved to Cambridge and renovated four derelict cottages to create Kettle's Yard, which was opened to the public in December 1957. Here, Ede installed the collection of art, furniture, glass, ceramics and other objects he had gathered during his peripatetic life. By weighing and assessing the position of each work of art and object, and their relationship with each other, he aimed to create a perfectly balanced whole, as detailed in his book, 'A Way of Life' (1984).

It was always Ede's intention that he would give Kettle's Yard to a higher education institution, and on 30 November 1966, he officially handed over responsibility for the building and the collection to the University of Cambridge. He continued to live there as 'honorary curator' until 1973, when he and Helen left for Edinburgh. During this period, he devoted considerable energy to fund-raising for an extension to accommodate the growing collection, music events, and temporary exhibitions. Helen died in 1977; Jim devoted the last years of his life to working as a hospital visitor, until his death in 1990.

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