H.S. (Jim) Ede restored and lived in, Kettle's Yard in Cambridge, which had previously been four tumbledown cottages. His house became a gift to the University of Cambridge providing a backdrop for his collection and an environment for study. Ede never saw his house as a gallery, and even less so a museum, however, it was where he chose to display his collection of works of art, furniture, china and glass. He had known and been close friends with many of the most influential British artists of the Twentieth Century including Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, David Jones and Christopher Wood. He acquired much of his collection in the early days, often as gifts from the artists, since he was almost alone in championing them. The present relief was almost certainly a gift from the artist and relates closely to a work called 1934 (relief) (4 x 4 in.), which is in the Kettle's Yard Collection (see Jim Ede, A Way of Life Kettle's Yard, Cambridge, 1984, p. 51, illustrated).
The present work is a very early example of a carved relief, the approach to abstraction for which Nicholson is perhaps best remembered. His first relief was only made fractionally earlier in Paris in December 1933. In a letter to Barbara Hepworth on 12 December, Nicholson wrote 'I did a very amusing thing yesterday. I carved it all day long it is about the size of a sheet of notepaper & looks like a primitive game. Jake and Kate came in at various stages & we rolled a marble about on it'. Hepworth was clearly highly enthusiastic and encouraging; in a letter postmarked 8 December 1933 she wrote 'I am very interested in your new work idea (carving out) naturally - I've been longing for it to happen for ages' (see J. Lewison, Ben Nicholson, London, Tate Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1993, p. 216).
Tracing Nicholson's influences in the run up to the carving of his first reliefs, various factors may be noted. The artist cited a particular abstract by Miro 'it was the first free painting that I saw & it made a deep impression - as I remember it a lovely rough circular white cloud on a deep blue background with an electric black line somewhere. One can only accept what one is ready for & this I was ready for'.
Peter Khoroche discusses the influence of Alexander Calder, 'Miró's free-floating forms had had an influence on Alexander Calder's invention of the free-moving mobile in the previous year, 1932. When at the end of 1933, Nicholson saw his first Calder mobile, he was entranced by its playful, poetic, seemingly free movement, and just such a movement, can be felt in one of his best drawings made at a later date. Similarly, the moving shadows cast by the swing and swerve of the mobile were soon to find their counterpart in the effect of hanging light over the shallow recesses of Nicholson's carved reliefs. He must also have felt in close sympathy with Calder's practical approach - his complete mastery of his materials and his imaginative understanding of their potential' (see P. Khoroche, Ben Nicholson drawings and painted reliefs, Aldershot, 2002, p. 35).