|'Von Ribbentrop in St Ives' at Kettle's Yard|
I had to go to Cambridge en route to Essex and, while there, braved the bikes and crowds of French schoolkids muddling about in the road to visit Kettle's Yard. I hadn't been for years and had completely forgotten that the permanent collection lives not in the gallery but in the house itself, the former home of Tate curator and collector Jim Ede and his wife Helen.
Having worked at the Tate during the 1920s and 1930s, Jim amassed a diverse collection of British art from the period, and in 1966 he donated house and contents to Cambridge University. His vision was to create not 'an art gallery or museum, nor ... simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period.'
|HS 'Jim' Ede at Kettle's Yard|
|Christopher Wood, Jean Bourgoint, 1926|
At a time when exhibitions tend to be dominated by great walls of explanatory text, it is a pleasure indeed to wander around this eccentric dwelling, looking at paintings in a domestic context and, quite naturally, unlabelled. With interest in 20th century British art on the rise, I can think of few better places to see work by Ben Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Winifred Nicholson, David Jones, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Christopher Wood and others, alongside work by modern European artists. The selection is eclectic, reflecting not the depth of Ede's wallet but the warmth of his friendships. The paintings, sculptures and other objects BELONG in the house and are all the more enjoyable for that.
|Kettle's Yard interior|
From there it's a half-hour drive to Saffron Walden and the Fry Art Gallery, where 'Ravilious in Essex' is entering its final month - 4000 visitors and counting. The Fry was also established by public-minded collectors, a succession of them in fact, going back more than a century - it takes its name from a scion of the Bristol family of chocolate makers who owned it in the 19th century. Nigel and Iris Weaver discovered the place in a ruinous condition when they moved to Saffron Walden in the 1980s, restored it and in 1987 opened the building to the public once again. Like Tate Britain in miniature, it is a gorgeous building with a fascinating permanent collection.
With a focus on the artists of Great Bardfield (John Aldridge, Edward Bawden, Tirzah Garwood/Ravilious, Kenneth Rowntree...), the Fry has become the principal port of call for admirers of Eric Ravilious, who lived in north-west Essex for the last eleven years of his life. Paintings, lithographs, Wedgwood china and wood engravings are beautifully presented, with a collection of the artist's wood blocks a particular treat.
|David Oelman at the Fry... now those books look familiar!|