Born in Nottingham in 1964, Edmund de Waal is an internationally acclaimed artist and writer. Much of his work is about the contingency of memory: bringing particular histories of loss and exile into renewed life. Both his artistic and written practice have broken new ground through their critical engagement with the history and potential of ceramics, as well as with architecture, music, dance and poetry. De Waal continually investigates themes of diaspora, memorial and materiality with his interventions and artworks made for diverse spaces and museums worldwide. Across de Waal’s practice is a distinct, philosophical approach that puts the hand, touch and thus the human above all else. 


De Waal made his first pot when he was five years old: the pot was small round and white. He was later taught pottery by Geoffrey Whiting at King’s School, Canterbury. Whiting was a disciple of the ‘Anglo-Oriental’ potter Bernard Leach and introduced de Waal to English domestic ceramics as well as to those of Japan, China and Korea. De Waal continued to train with Whiting as he read English at Trinity Hall in Cambridge before going on to set up his own studio in Herefordshire. He moved to Sheffield in 1988 and completed a postgraduate diploma in Japanese language at the University of Sheffield in 1992. De Waal spent the next year at the Mejiro Ceramics Studio in Tokyo.


Following his return from Japan, he set up a studio in London in 1993 and the focus of his work shifted from functional ware to installations, or ‘cargos’, of porcelain vessels. The visit to Japan radically changed his opinion of the work of Bernard Leach. His controversial book Bernard Leach (Tate Publishing 1998) re-evaluated Leach’s reputation but made de Waal’s.


De Waal’s work is as steeped in the legacy of high Modernism as the Japanese ceramic tradition. His installations of handmade porcelain vessels, often contained in minimalist structures, hold groupings of objects as a form of visual poetry. Whilst his vessels are fired in a limited palette of white, black and celadon glazes, they stand alongside a vast array of other materials, from stone and silver, to steel, gold, marble and wood. One of de Waal’s first major architectural interventions came in 2002 with The Porcelain Room created for London’s Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum). Other critical interventions include Signs & Wonders (2009) at the V&A Museum, –one way or other– (2018) at the Schindler House in West Hollywood, California and the library of exile which toured from Venice, to Dresden and the British Museum, London in 2021.


Edmund de Waal is also a celebrated writer, best known for his family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, published in 2010. Whilst the story traces the ascent and decline of the Ephrussi family – a once wealthy Jewish dynasty – it is also a biography of their collection, about loss, diaspora and the survival of objects. An international bestseller, the book has won many literary prizes including the RSL Ondaatje Prize and the Costa Biography Award and has been translated into over 30 languages. De Waal was awarded the Windham Campbell Prize for nonfiction by Yale University in 2015, and that same year he published The White Road: Journey into an Obsession, an intimate history of porcelain told via the stories of those whose lives have been profoundly touched by the material.


De Waal was made an OBE in 2011 and a CBE in 2021 for his services to art. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of the Arts London, Nottingham, Sheffield, York and Canterbury Christ Church universities and is an Honorary Fellow of Trinity Hall, Cambridge.He was a trustee of the V&A Museum between 2011-2019 and a member of the Advisory Committee for The Royal Mint. De Waal has been a trustee of the Gilbert Trust since 2013 and in 2020 became a co-opted member of the Young V&A Committee. In 2021 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts since 1996.