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the first day and the first hour (2013)

Edmund de Waal

porcelain in wood, aluminium and Plexiglass vitrines

Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

© the artist



Sculpture, Pottery, Installation, Ceramic


Porcelain, Clay, Wood, Aluminium, Plexiglass

Physical Object Description:

26 porcelain vessels in 7 in wood, aluminium, Plexiglass vitrines


40 x 169.2 x 17 cm


Presented by the artist through the Contemporary Art Society, 2019/20



Ownership history:

Gifted by the artist to the Contemporary Art Society, 2019; presented to Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery, 2019
Born in Nottingham, Edmund de Waal has an enduring love for porcelain, or ‘white gold’, and has a long fascination with objects. He is not only interested in their touch and form, but also in their ‘lives’ – how they are collected, dispersed or lost. De Waal’s obsession with objects was sparked during his childhood, when he was given a collection of fossils and stones by a local archdeacon. Literature, sound, and architecture also serve as vital sources of inspiration for de Waal’s practice.

De Waal is known for his porcelain vessels of neutral colours grouped together in custommade, highly minimalist vitrines. Because of their subtle variations in tone and texture, each pot de Waal produces is unique. With their little dents and pinches, they testify to the beauty of imperfection. The groupings are like rhythms, and the individual vessels notes of a musical composition or words in a poem written by de Waal.

the first day and the first hour reflects this, as well as the importance of natural light to his work, which falls softly on to the porcelain and casts shadows that shift throughout the day. He describes how these vessels are ‘all about breath, the space inside; for me a vessel is all about holding a breath: one breath and then another’.

Nottingham has an important collection of ceramics, with particular strengths in 18thcentury Wedgwood, Chinese porcelain and the Ballantyne collection of 20th-century studio ceramics. the first day and the first hour is a significant addition and will impact on the way the museum considers and works with this historical collection. However, given how Edmund de Waal’s work bridges the worlds of Fine and Decorative Arts so elegantly, this gift also sits comfortably within the museum’s contemporary art collection. the first day and the first hour will be displayed in Nottingham for the first time in summer 2021, when the Castle re-opens after a major redevelopment.

All rights reserved. Any further use will need to be cleared with the rights holder. Permission granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial copying, hiring, lending is prohibited. The collection that owns this artwork may have more information on their own website about permitted uses and image licensing options.

For further information, please consult our section of our copyright policy.

Artworks by Edmund de Waal

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