Last year, in the silence of lockdown, I started to write to Moïse de Camondo. I knew his house in the Rue de Monceau in Paris, had spent time in those golden rooms and in the archives high up in the attics. I needed to talk to him about memory and what it means to make a memorial for someone you love, about families. And collecting things and keeping them together. These are my letters to him.
The French hardback edition was published by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, on 16 April 2021.
The UK edition followed on 22 April 2021, published by Chatto & Windus, London.
You can order a copy and view the five books which influenced Letters to Camondo on bookshop.org.
Count Moïse de Camondo lived a few doors away from Edmund de Waal's forebears, the Ephrussi, first encountered in his bestselling memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes. Like the Ephrussi, the Camondos were part of belle époque high society. They were also targets of anti-semitism.
Camondo created a spectacular house and filled it with the greatest private collection of French C18th art for his son to inherit. But when Nissim was killed in the First World War, it became a memorial and, on the Count's death, was bequeathed to France.
The Musée Nissim de Camondo has remained unchanged since 1936. De Waal explores the lavish rooms and archives, uncovering new layers to the family story through a haunting series of imagined letters addressed to the Count.
This summer, the museum will open an exhibition of new works by Edmund de Waal made in response to the palace and the Camondo's story. It will be the first collaboration with a living artist in its history.
I’ve been spending time in archives again. It is an early-spring morning and there is that barely suppressed immanence in the trees in the park. Few leaves yet but next week will be different. Too cold and wet to sit for long on one of the benches, but I do. Even the dogs aren’t hanging about. It’s been raining. There is a word for the smell of the world after rain: petrichor . It sounds a little French.
Everyone seems to be off and away at this hour. All this forward energy, propulsive.
I get up and walk along the damp gravelled path, out of the great gilded gates into the avenue Ruysdaël and turn left up the rue de Monceau. I ring the buzzer outside number 63 and wait for a response.
I’m going back to archives. That strong pull up to those rooms high in the attics, the servants’ quarters, going back a hundred years.