31st August 2021 Vienna, Austria
An immense cultural gift
When I first decided to apply for the job of ambassador in Vienna in March 2015, I visited the city. A wise friend gave me a book: The Hare with Amber Eyes, by British ceramicist and writer Edmund de Waal.
I found it one of the most striking accounts of the Holocaust, and its impact on a single family, that I had ever read. It described vividly the links between Vienna, the Ephrussi family (from whom Edmund de Waal is descended) and the loss that family suffered in 1938 and beyond. The book uses the fate of a collection of 264 Japanese netsuke miniature sculptures to bind the narrative.
On arriving in Vienna in 2016, I was delighted to meet Edmund de Waal at an exhibition he curated at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, During the Night (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).
Edmund generously offered to make a long-term loan of one of his artworks, metamorphosen l, to the Government Art Collection (GAC). The story of how that came about, including Edmund’s 2 a.m. talk at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, is in my post Recollections of loss – Edmund de Waal in Vienna. That post includes a video by Penny Johnson, Director of the GAC, about the art in the British Embassy in Vienna and shows the installation of metamorphosen l taking place.
In 2018, the de Waal and Ephrussi families donated the Ephrussi family archive to the Jewish Museum in Vienna, together with making part of the famous collection of netsuke available to the Museum on a long loan. On that occasion, I had the privilege of meeting Edmund’s father, Victor, who visited the Palais Ephrussi as a child before it was expropriated by the Nazis in 1938.
In March 2021, Edmund generously offered to give metamorphosen l to the GAC. I am delighted that this important art work remains in the British Embassy in Vienna in perpetuity, and that my friendship with Edmund has helped make this possible.
I hope future generations of ambassadors in Vienna will feel the same sense of wonder at sharing the house with metamorphosen l that I have done.