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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Celebrating the Creativity of Contemporary Female Artists

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    06 Dec

    Professor Lesley Saunders matriculated from New Hall in 1966, reading Classics.  She is now an experienced educational researcher and a published poet.

    The New Hall Art Collection wasn’t in existence during my time as an undergraduate, so I came to know it slowly, and watch it grow, as I visited the college from time to time over the years. There are so many paintings to admire for their beauty or power, or to treasure for personal reasons; and I’ve been inspired by many of the temporary exhibitions that have been curated with such thought and effort.

    The Collection as a whole celebrates the creativity of contemporary women artists, so it is wholly appropriate that it should be housed in one of the few remaining women’s colleges – a space where young women can feel a sense of shared purpose and identity, as well as a connectedness with the lives and accomplishments of other women. The work of artists like Paula Rego, Maggi Hambling, Judy Chicago, Lubaina Himid, encourage us to see the world in creative and politically-engaged ways simultaneously; and the temporary exhibitions – for example, ‘Reproductivities’ in autumn 2018 – often make manifest the imaginative links between the arts and the sciences. Outside, sculptures and installations stand on the lawns or emerge from the plant-beds, and so for me the art collection has a lot in common with the College gardens, so beautifully and intelligently designed and managed by Jo Cobb and her team.

    To live and work in this environment, surrounded by such striking artefactural and horticultural riches, must be an immensely attractive inducement to Cambridge applicants to put the College at the top of their list. 

    The other place that I think of in relation to the College collection is Kettle’s Yard, a short walk down Castle Hill. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t take much notice of this extraordinary gallery and house – which contains some of the most glorious examples of Modernist art and sculpture – when I was an undergraduate; I’ve made up for that since! Cambridge University has a justifiably stellar reputation internationally for its scientific and technological research and teaching; the New Hall Art Collection and Kettle’s Yard are vital evidence of the diverse and outward-looking artistic worlds that flourish here.

    What makes the College collection – the largest of its kind in Europe – unique is that it is not enclosed; it gazes back at you from the walls of corridors and halls and rooms when you’re in meetings or walking to pick up your post or crossing the grounds to get your bike. Constantly and without fuss, it stimulates your intellect; touches your feelings; nourishes your imagination.