Edmund de Waal

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Thrown Bottle by Edmund de Waal from the W.A. Ismay Studio Ceramics Collection at York Art Gallery

Edmund Arthur Lowndes de Waal, OBE (born 10 September 1964) is a British ceramic artist, and author of The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010). He has worked as a curator, lecturer, art critic, art historian and was Professor of Ceramics at the University of Westminster until 2011. He has received several awards and honours for his work.

Early life[edit]

De Waal was born in Nottingham, England,[1] the son of Esther Aline (née Lowndes-Moir) and Rev. Dr Victor de Waal, who became the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral. His grandfather was Hendrik de Waal, a Dutch businessman who moved to England. His grandmother Elisabeth[2] was a member of the Ephrussi family, whose history he chronicled in The Hare with Amber Eyes.[citation needed]

De Waal's interest in pottery began at the age of 5 when he took an ceramics evening class[3] at the Lincoln School of Art.[4] He was educated at The King's School, Canterbury, where he was taught pottery by the potter Geoffrey Whiting, a student of Bernard Leach.[5]

Education and early career[edit]

When he was 17, de Waal began a two-year apprenticeship with Whiting, deferring his entry into Cambridge.[3][6] During the apprenticeship he made hundreds of pots, such as casseroles and honey pots.[3] In 1983, de Waal took up his place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge to read English where he was awarded a scholarship in 1985 and graduated with first class honours in 1986.[7]

Following graduation, de Waal began to follow his dream to create inexpensive domestic pots with good earth-tone colours.[3] He moved to the Welsh borders where he built a kiln and set up a pottery making functional stoneware pots in the Leach tradition, but the enterprise was not successful.[3] He moved to inner-city Sheffield and experimented with porcelain.[6]

In 1991 he obtained a Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation Scholarship, under which he spent a year obtaining a post-graduate diploma in Japanese language at Sheffield University[7] and continued an additional year's study.[8] Whilst in Japan he worked on a monograph of Bernard Leach, researching his papers and journals in the archive room of the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum.[9] He also made porcelain jars with pushed-in, gestural sides.[9]


On returning to Britain in 1993, de Waal began living in London[6] and made his distinctive ceramics, porcelain with a celadon glaze. Their shapes were essentially classical but with indentations or pinches and subtle variations in tone and texture. The pots became very fashionable, and in 1995 he had his first of many solo exhibitions.[10]

De Waal's book on Bernard Leach was published in 1998.[11] He described it as "the first 'de-mystifying' study of Leach."[12] "The great myth of Leach," he said, "is that Leach is the great interlocutor for Japan and the East, the person who understood the East, who explained it to us all, brought out the mystery of the East. But in fact the people he was spending time with, and talking to, were very few, highly educated, often Western educated Japanese people, who in themselves had no particular contact with rural, unlettered Japan of peasant craftsman."[3] He noted that Leach did not speak Japanese and had looked at only a narrow range of Japanese ceramics. These opinions attracted criticism from some of Leach's followers.

His work remained broadly within the Anglo-Oriental tradition but he also studied the modernists, and the Bauhaus movement in particular. In visits to Gothic cathedrals as a child de Waal had attended to small spaces within large buildings. While at university he began to consider how his work might help to re-order the interior space of the museums and art galleries he visited. In his current work he has moved away from making single objects to the production of groups of objects to be viewed in relation to openings and spaces. Most of his work consists of cylindrical porcelain pots with pale celadon glazes. He believes that the East and West may meet in porcelain; for example, that there the ethos of China's medieval Sung Dynasty may encounter the modernist ethos of the Bauhaus.[13]

In 2010 de Waal's family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes: a Hidden Inheritance, was published, first with Chatto & Windus in the UK and later with Farrar, Straus and Giroux in New York. In it he retraces the history of his Jewish relatives (from his paternal grandmother) – the wealthy and influential Ephrussi family – through stories about a collection 264 Japanese netsuke that were handed down through the generations and eventually given to de Waal by his great-uncle Ignace "Iggie" Ephrussi, who settled in Tokyo in 1947. The book has received critical acclaim and has won many literary prizes, including the Costa Book Award, the Galaxy New Writer of the Year Book Award and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize. It has already sold more than a million copies and by 2013, will be published in over twenty-three languages.

In 2011 de Waal wrote The Pot Book under Phaidon Press, a colour-illustrated anthology of 300 ceramic vessels.[14]

De Waal, who has made installations for Chatsworth, Kettle's Yard, Tate Britain and the Victoria and Albert Museum, works and lives in Dulwich, south London. He is represented by the Alan Cristea Gallery, London and the New Art Centre, Wiltshire. He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2011 Birthday Honours for services to art.[15]

De Waal has spoken about the influence of music on his work, for example in 2010 on the Radio 3 programme Private Passions.[16] In another interview about music that inspires him in his work, he has described how "you can get yourself into the loops of music... I did a huge porcelain wall – 500 porcelain vessels – and there are rhythms in that wall that completely come out of baroque music. More recently there's installations where things are in very minimalist, black lead-lined boxes, 12 of them in a row with the same number of vessels in each but they're arranged in different ways. That's the porcelain equivalent of Steve Reich's systems music! It's the same notes and the same tones repeated and just slightly different each time and it only makes sense if you've got all of it. One of them by itself is just a black box with a few pots in it."[17] The playlist includes Keith Jarrett, Johann Sebastian Bach, John Adams and Franz Schubert.

Awards and honours[edit]


  • de Waal, Edmund (2003). Twentieth Century ceramics. Thames and Hudson. 
  • — (2010). The hare with amber eyes : a hidden inheritance. Chatto & Windus. 
  • de Waal, Elisabeth (2014). The exiles return. Introduction by Edmund de Waal. 

Critical studies and reviews[edit]

  • Trumble, Angus (June 2011). "Netsuke on the move". Australian Book Review (332): 73–74.  Review of The hare with amber eyes.


  1. ^ British Council
  2. ^ "Compelling Stories: Jewish Lives Lived". Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Interview with John Tusa, BBC Radio 3
  4. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b043wvy7 Interview on BBC Radio 4's Front Row, 19 May 2014
  5. ^ Ceramics: Art and Perception, No. 54, 2003.
  6. ^ a b c Paul Laity. "The Guardian 12 February 2011, "Edmund de Waal: A life in arts"". the Guardian. Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Curriculum Vitae for THINK TANK". Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  8. ^ de Waal, Edmund.The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance. Vintage, 2011, pg. 1. ISBN 978-0-09-953955-1.
  9. ^ a b de Waal, Edmund.The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance. Vintage, 2011, pg. 3. ISBN 978-0-09-953955-1.
  10. ^ "List of solo exhibitions". Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  11. ^ de Waal, Edmund. Bernard Leach. Tate Publishing, 1998. ISBN 978-1-85437-227-7.
  12. ^ "University of Westminster". Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  13. ^ Twentieth Century Ceramics, London, Thames and Hudson, 2003.
  14. ^ De Waal, Edmund. "The Pot Book" Retrieved 12 April 2014.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 59808. p. 10. 11 June 2011.
  16. ^ He chose music by Bach, Brian Eno, Britten, Gesualdo, John Adams, Moby, Mozart, Orlando Gibbons
  17. ^ "Edmund de Waal chooses the music that inspires him in his work". Phaidon.com, October 2011.
  18. ^ "Prize Citation for Edmund de Waal". Windham–Campbell Literature Prize. February 24, 2015. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  19. ^ "UCA awards first round of honorary degrees". Retrieved 20 September 2014. 

External links[edit]