My Cultural Life: Edmund de Waal

The British ceramicist and author tells us what he’s been reading, watching and more

edmund de waal interview
Tom Jamieson

British artist and author Edmund de Waal is best known for his finely turned yet tactile porcelain vessels, which have been displayed in their hundreds at the British Museum, Tate Britain and the V&A, as well as his acclaimed family memoir, The Hare With Amber Eyes. His latest book, Letters To Camondo (Chatto & Windus, £14.99), is a reflection on ‘memory, collecting, porcelain and what it is to belong somewhere’ centered on the Jewish collector Moïse de Camondo – an exhibition at the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris is set to follow later this year.

First, catch new curation effort ‘This Living Hand: Edmund de Waal Presents Henry Moore’ at Henry Moore Studios & Gardens in Hertfordshire, until 31 October.

I’m currently listening to Stabat Mater by Marco Rosano, sung by the countertenor Andreas Scholl. I made most of my last exhibition of pots listening to this by myself in the studio. When I’m at the wheel, a single voice feels very direct, and these settings of such familiar texts move me greatly.

I’ve recently discovered Michael Kiwanuka. I started running during lockdown last year with one of my sons and his album Kiwanuka still keeps me going round south London.

edmund de waal interview
British musician Michael Kiwanuka

I’ve just finished reading the superb Frostquake by Juliet Nicholson and Miranda Seymour’s In Byron’s Wake and am now happily in the company of Hermione Lee’s Tom Stoppard. After a lockdown novel-binge, I’ve been loving biographies.

I’ve been watching Call My Agent! The premise of a Parisian talent agency and its unstable roster of entitled actors doesn’t begin to explain how deeply enjoyable this is. My kids have introduced me to WandaVision, which is compelling and utterly baffling.

My all-time favourite gallery has to be the V&A. From childhood it has been an unending delight, a place of return and sustenance. The ceramics galleries are the greatest in the world, with everything on display. The trick is not to panic in front of so many pots, but allow them to come in and out of focus.

edmund de waal interview
The V&A’s ceramics gallery
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My much-rehearsed line is that I’m not a collector. I’m not sure how I can keep this up as I’m surrounded by piles of books on every surface, with a shelf of Meissen porcelain behind me and a little Agnes Martin print. I think of it as research, rather than collecting.

If I won the lottery, I’d buy a late painting by Cy Twombly. Something vast and immersive, a vortex of colour and energy and tenderness. Perhaps one of his Rose paintings. And a Sung Dynasty Chinese bowl with Jun glaze. Small, impossibly rare, precious, perfect for the hands.

edmund de waal interview
’The Rose (IV)’ by Cy Twombly
Mike Bruce

My lockdown discovery was Instagram. New friendships through shared images and poetry. Who knew?

My favourite place in the world is Ardnamurchan, the peninsula stretching out between Mull and the Inner Hebrides. There is a view across to the islands of Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna that changes by the minute with sun and wind and rain. Just thinking about it brings my blood pressure down. I can’t wait to return.

edmund de waal interview
Scotland’s Ardnamurchan peninsula
Mark Dyball / Alamy Stock Photo

If I had a totally free day in London, I’d walk through St James’s Park and up to Piccadilly. I’d stop at Hatchards [booksellers] and then amble through the Royal Academy – the best walkway, thanks to David Chipperfield – to lunch at Ottolenghi’s Rovi and to browse more bookshops in Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court. I’d drop into the British Museum and then end up at Sir John Soane’s Museum at dusk – best shadows in London.

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