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We are closed on Bank Holiday Mondays

Please note the house will be temporarily closed for 4 weeks from 14 March 2024

Stories

LGBTQ+ History Month: The Queer Gaze of Edward Wolfe

In this blog post, Senior Curator (House & Collection) Inga Fraser explores the friendship between Jim Ede and Edward Wolfe.

Edward Wolfe is one of many early twentieth-century artists whose work has recently been revisited by scholars interested in exploring the notion of a queer gaze. His portrait of Jamaican-born law student Patrick Nelson was included in Tate Britain’s 2017 Queer British Art exhibition, and, in her biography of Nelson, Dr Gemma Romain compares the painting made by Edward Wolfe with those of Duncan Grant and other artists for whom Nelson modelled during the periods he lived in London, highlighting the racial-sexual politics inferred in these portraits and in the different relationships that ensued. [1]

Jim Ede, the founder of Kettle’s Yard, met artist Edward Wolfe in Florence in 1924, while Ede was researching his book on quattrocento drawings. [2] In Florence, both had been guests of the art historian Bernard Berenson at the Villa I Tatti. Wolfe was actually one of the first contemporary artists who Jim befriended. He was born in South Africa but had attended the Slade School of Art in London, joining Roger Fry’s Omega Workshops in 1917 and exhibiting with the London Group and the Friday Club as a member of the extended Bloomsbury circle. He is an artist best known for his portraits and still lives, although he did also produce abstract paintings. Wolfe began exhibiting with the Seven and Five Society in 1926, alongside Ben Nicholson, Ivon Hitchens, Sophie Fedorovitch and Winifred Nicholson and was a frequent visitor to the home of Jim and Helen Ede at Elm Row in Hampstead in the late 1920s.

Edward Wolfe 'Portrait of Jim Ede'. Courtesy of Robert Palmer for the Estate of James O'Connor and Edward Wolfe
Jim and Helen at Whitestone, 1940s

Early in 1930, Wolfe invited Jim and Helen to stay with him at a house he was living in just outside Tangier in Morocco. They were there for almost two months, and the trip provided the Edes with much-needed rest, as well as time for Jim to work on his biography of the sculptor Henri-Gaudier Brzeska, the first edition of which would be published later that year. A portrait by Wolfe made around this time shows Jim Ede reclining on a cane chair in a garden with the sea beyond. He holds a pen and paper on his lap, and to his right is a low table upon which are several red-bound volumes. The books in the painting appear to correspond to the 1930 and 1931 editions of Ede’s book, published by Heineman, which featured Gaudier-Brzeska’s signature in gold on a red cover.

Ede’s friendship with Wolfe was to prove significant, not just in introducing the young curator to the world of contemporary art, but also in introducing Ede to Tangier, where Jim and Helen were to move in 1936. Several of the items of furniture now at Kettle’s Yard date from the Ede’s period living in Tangier, and the collection includes a watercolour by Wolfe, although the whereabouts of Wolfe’s portrait of Ede, sold at auction in 2006, is currently unknown…

 

[1] Dr Gemma Romain, Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: the Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916-1963 (London: Bloomsbury, 2017)

[2] H.S. Ede, Florentine Drawings of the Quattrocento (London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1926)