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Volunteer Gallery Steward, Sue Drees, takes a closer look at Christopher Wood, Paris Snow Scene, 1926 from our current exhibition, Horizons: Kettle's Yard at Jerwood Gallery in this week's blog. 

Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, the house belonging to Jim Ede and his wife Helen, served as both home and art gallery.

Ede was the first curator of Modern Art at the Tate Gallery and throughout his career he was able to collect and was given many works by artists including Ben Nicholson, Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, William Scott, Roger Hilton and sculptors Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Henri Gaudier Brzeska and Constantin Brancusi.  

While the house and gallery are being refurbished and extended during a two year renovation programme, rather than have the collection languish in storage, works from the collection are on tour at several venues nationwide.
As a volunteer I often have time to study an ever-changing display of artworks. I have always wanted to visit Kettle's Yard but never had the opportunity so I was looking forward to the exhibition.  Modern British art is perhaps my favourite period within 20th century art and it was very difficult to choose a painting to highlight from so many wonderful examples; nonetheless I have chosen a modestly sized painting that immediately appealed to me titled, Paris Snow Scene, 1926 by Christopher Wood.
Christopher 'Kit' Wood (1901-1930) arrived in Paris in 1921 to study art at the Academie Julian in his quest to be 'the greatest painter that has ever lived'.  Blonde, bue-eyed and handsome he entered into fashionable artistic circles and met everyone there was to know in Paris including Jean Cocteau and Pablo Picasso.  In time he was introduced to Antonio de Gandarillas, a wealthy Chilean diplomat and dilettante who would become Wood’s mentor. 

Wood accepted an offer from Gandarillas to share his apartment at 60, Avenue Montaigne and Paris Snow Scene depicts the view from their third floor window of the streets around the Metro station, Rond Point, at the Champs-Elysees.  Wood painted the same view the previous year in his painting Paris Square, Bare Trees, 1925.

The focus on the urban environment seen from above was one that had occupied many artists such as the Impressionists at the end of the previous century. They had been inspired by the urban spaces created from wide new boulevards. Wood’s scene shows some of that influence and although the subject matter is rooted in a 19th century source, his treatment of it is thoroughly Modernist. Distorting perspective, the foreshortened tree-lined avenue is thrust upwards. 

Wood’s urban view is flattened and abstracted; the forms of the buildings are reduced to tonal planes. With a fluid handling of the brush a wintry effect is conveyed with a relatively sparse use of paint, through which initial pencil sketching is evident and indeed most of the the impression of snow comes from the primed canvas. Thick white paint is used to indicate snow on the roofs and the road, which contrasts with the rapid, thin, black paint strokes forming the skeletal bare trees and iron railings.

A mutedand narrow range of colours is coolly and effectively used;  black, white, grey, brown brightened with here and there a flash of red, blue and orange in the cars and clothing of the people walking on the street below. 
These paintings are now displayed to their best effect and invite closer study. Take advantage of this unique opportunity to see some of the best of the Kettle's Yard collection in harmony with the sympathetic light and space here at Jerwood Gallery. Experience for yourself in a small way this impression of Jim Ede's home which he described as 'a haven of rest in an over complicated life'.

Horizons: Kettle's Yard at Jerwood Gallery runs until 3 January 2016.

Image: Christipher Wood, Paris Snow Scene, 1926. Courtesy Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge.
25 November, 2015
Written by Sue Drees