Edmund de Waal at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Edmund de Waal, a thousand hours

The Edmund de Waal exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is subtitled On white; Porcelain Stories from the Fitzwilliam and de Waal fans need to note that because it’s not an exhibition of de Waal’s works; it’s a re-curation by de Waal of four of the ceramic galleries at the museum with two large-scale ‘interventions’ (works) by him, one of which we’ve seen before and one which has been specially commissioned for the Fitzwilliam’s Chinese Gallery. Is it worth a day trip? I went with a couple of friends and we all absolutely loved it.

The exhibition spreads across four of the ground floor galleries. The first thing you encounter is de Waal’s large work a thousand hours, which I wrote about when it was at the Alan Cristea last year. But the magnificent setting at the Fitzwilliam does it justice in a way that the more constrained space of Alan Cristea couldn’t do, with light pouring in from the big window at the top of the nearby Courtauld staircase. Cambridge residents might like to pop in more than once to see it in different lights.

Edmund de Waal

de Waal says of it, ‘in this space containing hundreds of objects and and hundreds of years of history, how can we count those hours?’

Edmund de Waal

de Waal has chosen his favourite porcelain vessels from the Fitzwilliam collection, selected, he says, because they are ‘perplexing and beautiful and because they connect stories of where they were made and who they were made for.’

These cups are from Meissen in Germany and date from the early 18th century. Meissen was the first place in Europe to discover the secret of making porcelain, long known in China. The teapot is English, from the Bow factory (c. 1750-1755).

Fitzwilliam Museum

Porcelain originated in the white clay mined in and around the Chinese city of Jingdezhen and de Waal shows us some of the actual white clay, displayed in one of the drawers under the vitrine which you can open to see explanations and photographs and illuminating little notes hand written by de Waal.

Fitzwilliam Museum

You can find the clay drawer under the vitrine called lost in white, a compendium of white Chinese vessels spanning four hundred years of chinese history.

Fitzwilliam Museum

Beyond this vitrine is de Waal’s second work in the exhibition, yourself, you. It’s smaller than a thousand hours, two clear vitrines of unglazed porcelain vessels, beautifully lit.

Fitzwilliam Museum

Edmund de Waal

Not billed as by de Waal but from his collection is this stack of ten dishes imitating Song Dynasty porcelain.

Edmund de Waal

It stands next to a vitrine of vessels that includes this Imari ware charger from late 17th century Japan. The note in the drawer underneath says that this is de Waal’s favourite in the Fitzwilliam collection.

Fitzwilliam Museum

These stem cups in different coloured glazes are from different eras; the blue glaze is from Jingdezhen (1522-1566), celadon from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1643) and copper red from the Yongzheng period (1722-1735). de Waal comments on the difficulty of making porcelain in this shape – ‘not impossible but barely achievable’, he says.

Fitzwilliam Museum

These long porcelain tiles were made in Jingdezhen for de Waal last year for the museum to display its porcelain on.

Fitzwilliam Museum

But there is one more work by de Waal in the exhibition. Called in plain sight it is hidden ‘somewhere nearby’ and it’s up to you to find it. I’m not going to give its hiding place away, but it’s worth the search.

Edmund de Waal

The exhibition is free and continues until 23 February 2014. The Fitzwilliam is open Tuesday to Saturday 10 am to 5 pm and Sundays 12 pm to 5 pm. It’s closed on Mondays.

Fitzwilliam Museum

13 thoughts on “Edmund de Waal at the Fitzwilliam Museum

  1. Thank you again Fran. A lovely post and I’m fascinated by EdW and porcelain… I can’t wait for his new book. My niece is studying at Cambridge, just wondering if I can wangle a detour to see her sometime. In the meantime I’m about to use some porcelain clay myself *a little nervous*.

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  2. His work sends me into a trance. I happened to drop into the Fitzwilliam with a visiting friend a few weeks ago. At that stage only the Thousand Hours was up and a little notice to say more was coming. The timing was perfect as we had watched the film about de Waal preparing for his American exhibition the night before. Thank you for the reminder to go back and see the rest.

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  3. Hello – so glad you liked the Intervention and found ‘in plain sight.’ I was one of the team at the Fitz working with Edmund de Waal to put it together. There’s a musical evening with music from China, Turkey, Italy, Germany and England too in Jan,and screening of ‘a thousand hours’ too.

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    • I loved it – it must have been great to work on it. Looking for ‘in plain sight’ was such fun – we were determined not leave without seeing it! Good luck with the musical evening and screening.

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  4. Pingback: Happy New Year! | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

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