A Perfect Model

With the sad news of Ronald Blythe’s death comes an interesting question. What happens to Wormingford’s Bottengoms Farm? Blythes estate has been settled up and I am now the owner of some of Christine Nash’s works.

Christine Kuhlenthal – Standing Nude, 1913

I find her work so significantly because of her early links with Dora Carrington and the Slade but also her affect on John. This drawing was for the Slade Figure Prize in 1913. The images below show that the drawing is from the Prize as it’s the same model used for Dora Carrington’s winning entry. Alongside Carrington in her class would be Mark Gertler, Paul Nash at the Slade.

Christine also worked in the Omega Workshops for the Bloomsbury group, mostly sewing Vanessa Bells fabrics into dress designs.

She met and married painter John Nash. ‘One artist in the house is enough’… that’s what Christine told Ronald Blythe. However history lost a good artist when she gave up art for acting and country dancing so not to upset John. During the end of her time at the Slade School of Fine Art she discovered she had glaucoma. It was too difficult to paint sometimes and she needed glasses to work, but she still could.

When Tirzah Garwood was dying it was Christine Nash who found her a nursing home in Copford and went to visit her with art materials most days. When she died John and Christine picked flowers from their Wormingford garden for her grave. She has been anonymous in so much history.

The nude drawing is also featured in Blythe’s book First Friends, published first by the Fleece Press and then Viking. Pictures like this are rare and to be cherished.

Bring me the head of Hepworth!

It’s rather annoying to loose one’s keys; to search the house, from worktop – to hallway table, your coat pockets and then find them in the jeans you wore yesterday that had been screwed up and posted in the laundry bin. But it must be another thing to lose a sculpture.

The photographs here are of a lost work by John Skeping of his first wife, Barbara Hepworth made in Rome. It must have weighed a lot, it’s not small and somehow it is missing.

Skeaping wrote in his memoirs that he had advertised for the sculptures return and to find information on where it might be today. Might it be in an Italian household somewhere? Who knows. The mystery lives on for now. Finding it would be the sensation of the modern age.

The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Harlton.

Within cycling distance from my home is the church at Harlton.  The village is known now as the home of Gwen Raverat from 1925 to 1941, although she is buried with her family in Trumpington.


There are various monuments over the church, in windows and on plaques. Also over the church are bits of scratched graffiti as well as a large monument in alabaster and marble.


The Fryer Monument

The first John Fryer, father of Thomas Fryer, the elder of the men commemorated on the monument, was born at Balsham and educated at Eton, King’s College Cambridge, and the University of Padua, then the greatest medical school in Europe. Although he was for a time a Lutheran, and was indeed imprisoned for heresy in the 1520s, by 1561 he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for Catholicism. He was released in 1563, but died of the plague in October of that year. 


A scratched Elizabethan gravedigger with spade.


Said to be a consecration mark this pattern can be found all over the country, in churches, barns, castles and on furniture. Most people call them Daisy Wheels or Hexfoils.

The root screen below is said to be Cambridgeshire’s only one made totally of stone.



The rector of the church in 1908-1922 was William Ellison and his son, Jan was the carver of the twelve disciples in the reredos – in the style of Eric Gill.  One of eight children, Henry Jan was born in Harlton, and studied sculpture in Paris with Ossip Zadkine. There he met many of the key figures of the artistic avant-gardes of the 1920s and ’30s. In 1935 he designed sculpture for Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry’s Sun House in Hampstead. 

After working as an intelligence agent in the Middle East during World War Two, he re-trained in ceramic studies at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London. He set up the Cross Keys Pottery in Cambridge with his wife Zoë. The church now has three of their vases inside and two wall planters. 


Some Russian Artists

In my shopping habits, I end up with lots of odd periodicals. This one from The Egoist Press’s magazine The Tyro (1922) has a curious set of editorial quirks – An essay on Russian Artists by Dismorr and an illustration by a young Cedric Morris. It sadly is a home for more of Wyndham Lewis’s ravings on art. The show was likely the 1921 Exhibition of Russian Arts and Crafts at the Whitechapel Galleries. It featured work by artists fleeing the revolution and living in London and Paris. Cagall, Goncharova, Larionov, Vasil’eva, Jacques Lipchitz and Arkhipenko and Pilichowski.

Some Russian Artists by Jessica Dismorr

THE show of exiled Russians at Whitechapel was noteworthy not for the artistic achievements, but as an expression of national character in art..
No other country of Europe has such marked æsthetic predilections. A bias towards clearness of presentment, emphatic shapes and strong colour is hers by inheritance. Naiveté, a farce in Paris and London, is true here. Toys and eikons give with homely terseness the character of the race.

The work of Goncharova is a good example of the toy-making gift. Inventiveness sprung directly from tradition reached in her setting to the “Coq d’or” its finest flower. At Whitechapel she exhibits cubist devices grafted on to immemorial patternings of peasant costume. Her juxtaposed chromes and majentas, so “moderniste” and daring, are commonplaces of the primitive steppe village.

Sarionoff plays a more involved game, dovetailing bright splinters of colour into the forms of men and objects. By his method much animation is suggested in the artificial stage atmosphere for which he works. Vassilieva paints dexterously a world in which all surfaces are fresh paint, all people dolls, all manners the story-book code.

Chagal, wandering Jew, mentally native to Russia is the curious vessel of the national spirit. His subject matter is legend and fairy- tale, his personal adventures or the bald drama of peasant life. Not an illustrator, he is a summoner of forms, all of which have story as well as shape. Men, small and large, numerous important animals, fantastic suns and moons, carts and churches jostle one another throughout these amazing designs. Here, though natural congruities are outraged, there is a plastic orderliness preserved as by a miracle.

Two sculptors of talent seek emancipation of a different kind.
Archipenko has been known in Paris exhibitions for block-like stone pieces, so sparingly treated by the chisel as to leave all their natural weight and inertia. A change of intention is seen in his newest works which possess on the contrary great formal variety. Freeing his subject from all but certain selected aspects he traces in air the whorls and spirals of a sculptural shorthand.

With Lipschitz we find a fiercer disdain of realism. The sources of human form disappear as his scheme develops, and a new thing is produced relying upon itself for significance. He works to discover an ideal organisation, one plane pre-supposing another till the sum of parts is reached. Such an endeavour is a searching test of natural gift, for in those polar regions of conquest it has no allies. When Lipschitz fails it is due to an enterprise supported by a talent not equally mature.
Jessie Dismorr.

Ghost House

Following on from this post, on how modernism flowered in Britain, here I focus on Jim Ede and Kettles Yard.

Harold Stanley Ede – House with Red Roof, 1928

One of the young modernist (Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska) supporters was Jim Ede, a painting student from the Slade School of Art, now working as an Assistant at the Tate Gallery at this critical time in British Art from 1921-1936. During his tenure he tired to introduce modern art into the Tate Gallery, and although it is rather unclear how much of a legacy he left at the Tate, but he made many connections in the job and championed modern artists that the Tate would later acquire for their collections in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

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.

Jim Ede on his time at the Tate Gallery.

During Ede’s time at the Tate, many other people had championed modern art and become famous for it – from Clive Bell and Roger Fry making the case for the Post Impressionists. As well as Kenneth Clarke whose tastes were much more broader, and who effectively helped preserve the artists in Britain during the Second World War with the Recording Britain project and by guiding the War Artists Scheme into fruition and saving artists being on the front lines of combat.

After leaving the Tate in some frustration in 1936, Ede moved to Morocco, living in a custom built modernist house called Whitestone from 1937 to 1952. After this Ede and wife Helen moved their family moved near Blois in France. During Ede’s time away from Britain, many of the artists he championed had moved to St Ives in Cornwall to make an artist colony and had become more popular. The move to St Ives wasn’t anything new or odd and had happened in fads with various sets of Victorian painters who went for the brighter light and more consistent weather.

The art collection Ede had amassed before leaving the Tate was rather interesting and extensive, some of these can be seen in his home in Tangier as with, Boy with cat by Christopher Wood. Ede also acquired half the estate of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska after the artists death from his wife, and then wrote Savage Messiah about Henri’s life.

Ede had acquired many paintings by an artist Ben Nicholson and Christopher Wood had discovered. This was Alfred Wallis, a retired fisherman who started to paint when his wife had died, “for company” as he wrote to Ede. His paintings were mostly memories of his life at sea on boats, as well as views of St Ives. His paintings were going cheap and many in the St Ives circle where able to afford some.

Alfred Wallis – St. Ives Harbour, 1932-33

What was exciting to the artists was Wallis’ lack of training and with that, no need for perspective. The dock quay in the painting above, shifts off and the buildings appear on their side. The ship is out of proportion but it all feels like the perspective of a child. They had found of the truest modernists. One with no training but saw things in a primitive but accurate way.

Jim his wife Helen moved to Cambridge in 1957, buying a set of cottages, preserved from the old Kettles Yard, and transformed into a single dwelling by changing their old doors into bay windows and adding a turret for a circular staircase. The cottages were not saved by him, but by the local preservation society who used them to block the view from Castle Hill of new houses from the church. He filled this new home with his collection and for two hours in the weekdays, opened his house up to the curious.

Kettle’s Yard was firstly a private collection of art and craft collected by Ede. In 1957 he began opening to the public in the afternoons.

The architect who converted the cottages into a home was Rowland de Winton Aldridge and later, the exhibition space you walk through the house to, was added by Leslie Martin and David Owers in 1969-1970.

The 1970s cottage extension area can be seen in the magazine above on the right. This was a space for the whole collection of Jim Ede to be spaced out, some of the works being monumentally large and would have dominated the cottage house. The 70s extension was also a space for musical recitals. The inaugural concert of the 1970s extension was given by Jacqueline du Pré and Daniel Barenboim. In 1973, the Ede’s left for a flat in Edinburgh.

In 1970 an extension was built for the sole purpose of exhibitions and performances and in June 1971 Henry Rothschild began his association with Ede and Kettle’s Yard with a large exhibition simply called “Twenty British Potters”.

Old Kettles Yard: in a circular shape it was perfect for exhibitions.

After the Edes left Kettle’s Yard, curators took over from where they had left off. Jeremy Lewison, the curator between 1977 and 1983, made the mistake of installing bookshelves in the library, moving the chest of drawers, and relocating Gaudier-Brzeska’s Caritas from its oval table to a niche by the window – and ‘all hell broke loose’. Ede sent Lewison sketches and photographs annotated with notes to ‘correct’ the moves. …‘Ede’s particular constellations of pebbles, shells and sculptures are still painstakingly preserved today, the lemon and cut local wildflowers replaced every week (daffodils in spring to talk chattily with the lemon and the Miró).

Kettles Yard means many things to many people, but it is seen as a goal for the minimalism most people seek in the home. It has also been pervasive, as through the eyes of interior designers and the pages of endless editorials, it is a topic that bounces around in an annual cycle of features: the over animated designs of William Morris designs, the do-it-yourself style of hand painted Charleston interiors of the Bloomsbury group and then Kettle’s Yard’s white washed interiors for a monastic calm.

Kettles Yard isn’t really about the artwork for me, but the objects. I find the simple designs of the Georgian chest of drawers and the stickback chairs mixed with spode plates on shelving to be rather charming. It is not what you can aquire, but what you can live without. It is also interesting that a man obsessed with modernist items didn’t fill his home with chrome and glass art deco units like many collectors, but maybe he got this out of his system in Morocco. Although Kettles Yard isn’t full of the best of British craftsmanship, the pieces all work in their curiosity and tone, antique furniture that though use has patina.

The real lure however is down to it’s cave style, a chain of rooms, each give intimacy, corners and alcoves that are hidden, and I think that is what people really crave. It is also about how to use the architecture to show off the artworks and items in the best way. This certainly is what the house does. This might be in part the good taste of his wife Helen, but it was also championed with the friendship of Henry Rothschild, who founded the London shop Primavera, and in the 1960s moved the shop to Cambridge. Rothschild would use the gallery space of Kettle’s Yard to exhibit many of his shows, from Indian weavings to Contemporary Ceramics.

Ben Nicholson, Goblet and two pears, 1924

Ede’s ethos in decorating this home is to make a calm area. He also liked to find possessions that had a meaning to an artwork; He put a set of black bowls under Nicholsons painting of goblet and two pears, while next to a Blue painting by Miro with a yellow dot, he put a lemon on a pewter plate to mirror the image. He saw these arrangements almost as echos of the paintings themselves. He also delighted in bringing nature into the house with a selection of found objects, from pebbles to a tumbleweed in the fireplace.

I like to keep very quiet in a room and to have it always still; for this reason I want a room to be orderly. It is to me as if it were a pool of silence, and just as a pool when stirred loses its transparency, so a room is stirred by movement. Sometimes I find that if I don’t go into a room for a week, and then gently open the door and look in, I am instred invaded by its stillness; and if I tip-toe into it, that stillness stays about me for some moments.

The Spectator – Volume 257, 1986

Ede’s guide book to Kettle’s Yard, A Way of Life, is just as religious and spiritual as you might come to expect. But the idea of a space lived in was also to avoid clutter. However – even if the new gallery space is poorly designed and filled with dreadful works that represent nothing to do with the house and Jim Ede, but more to do with the curators career pathway at least the house is preserved.

The new area of the gallery and gift shop was converted by Jamie Fobert Architects in 2018 and gives the place the feel of an office block that has been given a council grant become a gallery. Pokey whitewashed rooms and a perplexing amount of study rooms, that rarely used for the public.

Perception of Memory

An old engraving of St Peter’s Church with the Kettle’s Yard cottages to the left.

Kettles Yard is now known for being the old home of Jim Ede, a gallery curator who collected art – displaying it in his home alongside antiques and objets trouvés.

Ede studied painting at Newlyn Art School and at the Slade. In 1921, he became assistant curator at the National Gallery of British Art (later the Tate Gallery). During his time at the Tate, he had formed friendships with avant-garde artists of the day, and collected their work. He married Helen Schlapp whom he had met in Edinburgh. After leaving the Tate and a stint abroad, he found a set of old cottages and converted them into a house with an architect friend in 1954, filling it with art, this forms the collection he left to Cambridge University, with his house, to form Kettles Yard.

From outside, I look at Northampton Street in Cambridge with it’s knoll of grass, and the view of Kettles Yard as something that must always have been that way. In Cambridge we have the luxury of green spaces all over the city and I always assumed this grassland had always been this way since the Saxon era where this side of the river in Cambridge was first populated. St Peter’s Church has elements of Saxon and Roman bricks recycled in its construction from older buildings in the area.

The photo above shows a little more history to the location of Kettles Yard. Taken in 1950, it shows the row of cottages pre-conversion. Without the bay windows and with their original front doors. There has been a bit of a myth that these houses had long been abandoned before Ede moved in with his architects, but this isn’t the case. The window is open upstairs in the attic room, there is a shed and they look in rather good order with good guttering. In this photo we can see the old road that was the access to the church with the end of the house to the left, this is pictured below.

In the photo above is the old view of Kettle’s Yard and St Peter’s church when it was a yard. A yard of shops, a pub and houses, with a line of houses all the way down Northampton Street too. The map below shows how dence the area was with properties. Around twenty-five on the area of the grass alone. The PH on the map is the Public House, The Spotted Cow.

Cambridge Council considered areas like this slums and it is likely they were, and in the 1950s with so much rebuilding of the UK, they pulled the lot down to build ‘better’ social housing.

In the photograph below, a corner shop has been built on the edge of Honey Hill, some of the windows have lost their original small-paned-windows. Photo from the adverts and bicycles are likely late 1920s.

Today we see this as perplexing, the modern tourist who would have sooner have boutique shops of surviving old streets like this (Brighton and Hastings) to shopping centres. But Cambridge City Council, who have proven themselves just as architecturally blind now as then, had a system of clearances all over the city and removed most of the domestic historic elements of life that would give the city character. They replaced the Kite area with the Grafton Centre, that is about to be demolished, and the Lion Hotel Yard area with a 1970s and 80s series of covered shopping centres.

It seems the four Kettles Yard cottages were saved by Cambridge Preservation Society, but likely because they would shield the new buildings view from St Peter’s Church on Castle Street.

Who’s right?

A lot of people write about how Barbara Hepworth was the student of Giovanni Ardini when in Rome. But it seems her scholarship was for Florence, not Rome and she only went there after he had met and married John Skeaping who was at the British School in Rome. Skeaping was apprenticed to Ardini who himself was working for Ivan Mestrovic, turing his plaster and clay maquettes into larger marble works.

Ivan Mestrovic – Madonna with Children, 1925

After Hepworth’s death in 1975, Skeaping wrote his autobiography Drawn from Life (1977) where he put his side of the story. But looking at Hepworth’s published works, it seems she didn’t learn from him, but had a remark translated for her. Has this made academics and authors jump the gun and write she was his pupil? The remark is after all, only about the ‘conception of carving’ and not it as a physical teaching. So have writers been assuming she was his pupil, rather than just being in his circle at that time.

I owe a debt to an Italian master – carver , Ardini , whose remarks on the approach to marble carving , when I was in Rome, opened up a new vista for me of the quality of form, light, and colour contained in the Mediterranean conception of carving.

Barbara Hepworth: ‘Approach to Sculpture’, The Studio, London, October 1946, Vol. CXXXII, no. 643, p. 97

I taught Barbara to carve marble. She could not learn from Ardini as she did not speak a word of Italian and never learned to do so during the whole time we were in Italy.

John Skeaping: Drawn from life, 1977p.72

Who is right and who is wrong? I was trying to find any other evidence of Hepworth with Ardini, and other than a quote from her 1952 book Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings there isn’t a lot.

A chance remark by Ardini , an Italian master carver whom I met there , that “marble changes colour under different people’s hands” made me decide immediately that it was not dominance which one had to attain over material

Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, 1952

The mystery of Hal Woolf

Herman ‘Hal’ Woolf (1902-1962) studied art at Chelsea Polytechnic and later in Paris at La Grande Chaumiere. He had exhibited with the Royal Academy, become a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, and was a member of the London Group, and with the National Society of Painters and Gravers. He designed posters, and twelve days after being hit by a car in Park Lane on November 10 1962, he was found dead in police custody. 


Hal Woolf’s case became part of the Skelhorn Report. The case is reported in Hansard, part of a inquiry in the House of Commons.

Mr. Herman Woolf was knocked down by a car in Central London in November, 1962. He was taken to hospital and X-rayed there. A short time afterwards he was considered fit for discharge, and he was promptly arrested by the police on the allegation that he was in possession of a dangerous drug. Within 24 hours he was returned to that very same hospital, gravely ill and injured, in a comatose condition. Shortly after that he was transferred to another hospital, and 12 days later he was dead.

During this whole time—from 10th to 23rd November, 1962—the late Mr. Woolf was under police surveillance, and most of the time under police arrest. In spite of the fact that some days after this unfortunate incident and his transfer to a hospital in the suburbs more than one of his friends reported him missing at a London police station, his former wife—who was his next-of-kin—and his friends were not notified by the police of his whereabouts until after he had died.

The drug found on him was Indian Hemp, a type of Cannabis. Having had a lot of success he seems to be mostly forgotten about today. His memorial show was held at the Woodstock Gallery, London.


 Hal Woolf – Salcombe – Shell Poster, 1931

One of the troubles about the whole of this tragedy in 1963 was that those equipped with authority to deal with this matter in any way did not show themselves to be over-anxious to investigate the circumstances of the case. At the inquest Mrs. Woolf objected to the haste with which it was being held, and asked to be represented, but her objection was brushed aside. Later, her legal advisers had great difficulty in getting a transcript of the evidence—such as it was—which had been given at the inquest.

Last summer when, as a result of an article in the magazine Private Eye, the national Press took up the Woolf case, and suspicions and anxieties were aroused among many people about it, an investigation was held by Scotland Yard, under Detective Superintendent Axon. It took a very short time. I know none of the details. There was a report to the Commissioner, and comfortable and complacent conclusions were issued to the Press. But the report has never been published. Neither the public nor Members of Parliament know any of its details.

Woolf Enquiry – HC Deb 15 May 1964 vol 695 cc837-53

Despite the tragic and curious end to his life Hal Woolf has a remarkable legacy in British art and it is a shame he isn’t better known. I always think an artist who Jack Beddington employed was a good bench mark.  


My right hon. Friend is convinced—and I hope that the House will take this assurance in a cooperative spirit—that no useful purpose would be served in publishing the proceedings of this inquiry and that it would, in terms of the undertaking he gave in the beginning, be quite wrong to do so.

The modern sensibility of Eric Gill

I have always admired the early work of Eric Gill but I find the volume of his output is a little too much to comprehend. Above all the bad elements, his influence was great, and together in the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, he helped form a real revival in wood-engraving both in book illustration and inventive typography – he was a modernist long before the world even saw a Henry Moore. This Mother and Child (1910) had perfection of realism and the audacity to offend by showing breast feeding.

Eric Gill – Mother and Child, 1910

When I was at university Gill was regarded for his Gill Sans typeface than his sculpture. It being the pinnacle of achievement in style next to Helvetica. This is after the famous Fiona MacCarthy biography Eric Gill (1989), detailing his sexual desires and deviances made him a less respected character. But even then, there was a generation of people who upheld him and his work, exhibitions and so on. But now people talk of his with the disrespect and I wonder why it has taken thirty so years for it to happen? Is it down to people not knowing his work and only his sins, not separating the church and state of the man and his work. I always suspected Gill was a catholic for the absolution of his sins anyway, but I am finding it curious how people are turning their noses up at Gill.

The reaction to MacCarthy’s book has been for people to request to remove his work from public display. The stations of the cross in Westminster Abbey and a man defaced the BBC’s statue of Prospero and Ariel, however this seems to have had the opposite effect and outraged the public. There is a mindless thuggery in his destruction, but people with hammers are not to be trusted.

Lake and Elliot

Lake and Elliot were based at the Albion Works, Braintree in Essex. Founded in 1894 by William Beard Lake, then later he was joined by Edward Elliot and they worked under the company name Millennium. However due to legal disputes with the name they went with their surnames of Lake and Elliot. During World War One they made components for the war: tanks, warshops… and later for oil rigs.

They were making machine parts and different apparatus from tractor jacks to early motorbikes. In 1924 they had a radical trial into making tractors into trains. They used a Fordson Major and used a chain connecting the axles. The train below is at the Colne Valley Railway Museum.

It was used in railway sidings to shunt trucks, carriages and wagons.