The Hare with the Amber Eyes – notes 1

>>>>  On to Section 2 –  next page >>>


Great Reviews:
Hareloom: Tablet Mag

God of small things – Guardian

A Surprising Inheritance – Melbourne Blogger

Objects and Memories


Reading the first few pages I was really curious as to where this author had come from that he could manage a scholarship like the one offered.  So I looked him up.  Edmund de Waal and The Writer Behind the Hare 

And he has a fabulous web-site at Edmund de Waal 

For the most part I have to say that reading this book,  I was just in awe at de Waal’s style and  the opulence of his family.   I’ve read a fair amount about the Gilded Age in the US and also knew that the upper class of that time went to Europe for culture – they married titles,  they bought art,  they soaked in the atmosphere.  What I didn’t know was any kind of specifics about what drew them there –  how rich were the Europeans,  what kind of art did they have,  in what ways were they decadent and sophisticated both or either)?
This book answered my questions – at least about the Ephrussi family and the Belle Epoque but with references to so many others – notably Jewish wealth.  Marcel Proust is mentioned on so many pages- a good friend of Charles Ephrussi.  Bonaparte’s family is intertwined with the Ephrussis.  Monet was close to him and so many others.   I finally decided I was going to have to just throw up some of the links I found to many people, places and things and call them an abbreviated annotation.

p2. “apprenticed to an austere man, a devotee of the English potter Bernard Leach. He taught me about respect for the material and about fitness for purpose: I threw hundreds of soup-bowls and honey-pots in grey stoneware clay and swept the floor.”

Bernard Leach

Nihon Mingeikan Japan Folk Crafts Museum

p. 3  “Yanagi Sōetsu.   a philosopher, art historian and poet, had evolved a theory of why some objects – pots, baskets, cloth made by unknown craftsmen – were so beautiful. In his view, they expressed unconscious beauty because they had been in such numbers that the craftsman had been liberated from his ego.”

p.  4  “… are visionist history of Leach. It was to be a covert book on japonisme, the way in which the West has passionately and creatively misunderstood Japan for more than a hundred years.”


Netsuke – 

p. 5 –  French Vitrine

p. 6 Kaiserschmarrn 

Bad Ischl

p. 7  Jiro and Iggie  (see the family trees in the beginning of the book)

Mejiro and the Imperial Hotel indicate a rather upscale lifestyle in Tokyo.

p. 8  “I miss that. I missed that.”   (beautifully stated – very sad – I miss it too.)

p.  10  “… my Japanese isn’t good enough when I need it. So instead, in this room in this Buddhist temple, in this Tokyo suburb, I say the Kaddish for Ignace von Ephrussi, who is so far from Vienna, for his father and his mother, and for his brother and sisters in their diaspora.”

And Edmund, the author,  gets the netsuke –

p. 12
“They are always asymmetric, I think with pleasure.”

“I realise how much I care about how this hard-and-soft, losable object has survived. I need to find a way of unravelling its story. Owning this netsuke – inheriting them all – means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them. I am unclear and discomfited about where the parameters of this responsibility might lie.”

pp. 12-13 – “I know that these netsuke were bought in Paris in the 1870s by a cousin of my great-grandfather called Charles Ephrussi. I know that he gave them as a wedding-present to my great-grandfather Viktor von Ephrussi in Vienna at the turn of the century. I know the story of Anna, my great-grandmother’s maid, very well. And I know that they came with Iggie to Tokyo, of course, and were part of his life with Jiro. Paris, Vienna, Tokyo, London.”

Charles Ephrusi 

medlar –  Japanese loquat –

p.  15   “… my family were Jewish, of course, and I know they were staggeringly rich, but I really don’t want to get into the sepia saga business, writing up some elegiac Mitteleuropa narrative of loss. And I certainly don’t want to turn Iggie into an old great-uncle in his study, a figure like Bruce Chatwin’s Utz, handing over the family story, telling me: Go, be careful.”

“I want to know what the relationship has been between this wooden object that I am rolling between my fingers – hard and tricky and Japanese – and where it has been.”

p.  16 is beautifully written –  just read the whole thing –

pp.  17-18 tell the story of De Waal’s setting out to find the history behind his family’s netsuke.


Chapter 1  West End

p. 23  “These houses in Paris and Vienna were part of a family plan: the Ephrussi family was ‘doing a Rothschild’. Just as the Rothschilds had sent their sons and daughters out from Frankfurt at the start of the nineteenth century to colonise European capital cities, so the Abraham of my family, Charles Joachim Ephrussi, had masterminded this expansion from Odessa in the 1850s.”

p. 24   “By 1860 the family had become the greatest grain-exporters in the world. In Paris, James de Rothschild was known as the le Roi des Juifs, the King of the Jews. The Ephrussi were les Rois de Blé, the Kings of Grain. They were Jews with their own coat of arms: an ear of corn and a heraldic boat with three masts and full sails. Their motto, Quod honestum, unfurled below the ship: We are above reproach. You can trust us.”

p. 28 –  the Camondo home –  (a Wiki site)

The museum overview web site is at with details at (which is unfortunately only in French).  (thanks Roger!)

“As I walk down the hill from the Hôtel Ephrussi at what I consider to be a good flaneurial pace, slower than usual…”   (thanks Mary!)

p. 29   “… look at two paintings of Gustave Caillebotte.  Caillebotte, a few months older than Charles, lived around the corner from the Ephrussi family in another grand hotel.”

Le pont de l’Europe

p. 30   Jeune homme à sa fenêtre,

But nothing compares to the mansion built by the chocolate magnate Émile-Justin Menier.

This must be  “creative” non-fiction.  I can’t imagine how De Waal knows this – he’s surmising it. –  (Later note –  I’ve reconsidered this to be a memoir of sorts and in that context it’s probably okay.  This is not a history book. – 2/1)

The bank is next door. He cannot move along the promenade without someone stopping his grandfather or father or uncles to ask them for information, a favour, a kopek, something. He learns, without knowing it, that to move in public means a series of encounters and avoidances; how to give money to beggars and pedlars, how to greet acquaintances without stopping.

The Hunters in the Snow
(The painting is in the collection of theKunsthistorisches Museum, located in Vienna, Austria.)

“… drawings in the Albertina, the watercolors by Dürer of the trembling hare, the outstretched wing of a lapidary bird.”   (The Albertina building may look like a stone bird.)

They learn to ride in the Prater.

CHAPTER 2 – Un Lit de Parade

p. 35  “If you wanted to see set-pieces at scale you could go to any of the Rothschild houses in Paris or, indeed, to James de Rothschild’s new palace at Ferrières, just outside the city.”

De Waal studies up on Charles:  “I realise that I must understand how Charles looked at things, and for this I must read his writings.”

CHAPTER 3 – A Mahout to Guide Her

p. 39  “It is in the salons that Charles first comes into view. He is noticed by the acidic novelist, diarist and collector Edmond de Goncourt in his journal.”  Goncourt’s records and journals reveal much of De Waal’s information in chapters 3 and 4.

p. 40 “Mme Lemaire’s Thursday salon is mentioned in an early essay of the young Marcel Proust.”

And I was just thinking about the salons of Proust.  – Same exact time-frame as Charles E.

Actually,  “Proust based the character of Swann on Charles Haas and Charles Ephrussi, founder and editor of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts.”  see – “Why Proust,  Why Now?”


Painting 2

Goncourt, splenetic, is particularly furious that young Charles has become a confidant of his Princess Mathilde, the niece of Bonaparte.  (friends perhaps because he was Russian descent as was her second husband.)

p. 41  “The Gazette, the ‘Courrier européen de l’art et de la curiosité’, has a canary-yellow cover and on its title page an aesthetic display of Renaissance artefacts on top of a classical tomb surmounted by a furious-looking Leonardo.”

Gazette des beaux-arts

Camondo Mansion library

p.  42  “He has a mistress. And he has started to collect Japanese art. These two things, sex and Japan, are intertwined.”

*** de Waal is a VERY good writer.***

CHAPTER 4 – So Light, So Soft to the Touch

p. 45  Leon Bonnat’s painting of Louise Cahen d”anvers:

MISTRESS OF TITIAN.  (is De Waal referring to  Titian’s Mistress?)

p. 46 “They (Charles and Louise) were present at a small and select dinner party (sans the husband) followed by a recital of poetry by Anatole France, hosted by Proust.”    Kind of name-dropping gossipy ?   But De Waal is always self-deprecatory –

Anatole France –

“…house of the Sichel brothers” –  that would be Philippe Sichel whose book is still in print.  It’s also available for free download -“Siegfried Bing, the Oriental Art Boutique,

Faubourgh – suburbs – and the boulevards around them. various spellings – Proust’s favorite was the Faubourg Saint- Germain. 

p. 48   The following passage is very telling – theme of texture

“Charles and Louise were ‘néojaponistes’, young and rich artistic latecomers. For with Japanese art there was an exhilarating lack of connoisseurship, none of the enmeshed knowledge of art historians to confound your immediate responses, your intuitions.”

*** How heady and exhilarating! **

Monet’s La Japonaise

Marie Antoinette’s collection

Japan was discovered by Europeans in 1543 or thereabouts.  It was shut off from the West in 1653 but although there was some trade and other activity, war type skirmishes,  from about 1858 or ’59,  it was not reopened until after a Japanese embassy was established in France in 1862.  The country was only re-opened in 1868.   These types of objects were really new to the Europeans.

p. 49  American artist John LeFarge 

LaFarge said,  “‘that we should bring no books, read no books, but come as innocently as we could’. Having a feel for beauty was enough: touch was a kind of sensory innocence.

*** Western culture is the only culture in the world which makes art to just hang on walls – the other arts are usually artifacts and  for purposes – room dividers, pots, ***

Chapter 5 – A Box of Children’s Sweets

p. 56  “Japan was that box of sweets”
Chapter 6 – A Fox with Inlaid Eyes in Wood

James Tissot’s La Japonaise au bain a girl is naked but for a heavy brocade kimono, loose on her shoulders, standing on the threshold of a Japanese room.

CHAPTER 7  The Yellow Armchair

p.  66 – little authorial insight here – (us into him)
“Above all, they make you laugh in many different ways. They are witty and ribald and slyly comic. And now that I have finally got the netsuke up the winding stairs and settled in Charles’s salon in the honey-coloured hotel, I find I am relieved that this man whom everyone liked so much had enough of a sense of humour to enjoy them. I don’t have just to admire him. I can like him too.”

p.  67  Jules Laforgue  (Charles’ assistant at the time)

CHAPTER 8 Monsiur Elstir’s Asparagus

(I’m not going to hunt up all the art mentioned – I know most of it – I’ll note what’s new -)

p. 72 Durer’s self-portrait
(I knew it when I saw it)

p. 75 Manet’s asparagus
(I knew this when I saw it – the story is very humorous)

p. 76 Viscount Lepic and His Daughters   (Degas)

p.  77  Les bains de la grenouillere  (Monet)

Discussed to emphasize difference of Japanese art –  Japanese prints show flat surfaces rather than deep.  Japonism

p. 77  Les Glacons by Monet  and Proust again –

Jean Beraud 

p. 80 –  “Sometimes all it took was to paint Parisian life in the rain. A flotilla of patchy grey umbrellas taking the place of parasols turns Paris into a kind of Edo.”

See –  Renoir’s The Umbrellas  (thanks to Roger!)

CHAPTER 9 – Even Ephrussi Fell For It
p.  83 – Renoir – in need of money and had to remind Charles so we get a little insight into de Waal: I find myself similarly embarrassed when I discover a cross note from Degas reminding Charles about a bill

Louise Cahen Anvers   by Leon Bonnat

Elizabeth and Alice

p.  83   Huysmans  “Against the Grain” 

p.  84   Gustav Moreau  and Salomé  and Jason

p.  85    Renoir was really complaining about Jews and gold in paintings –

p.  86 – Paul Baudry

p.  89 – “The robustly heterosexual Ignace, along with other wistful bachelors, was devoted to the Countess Potocka.”

” ‘ This intriguing countess, with looks that Proust described as ‘at once delicate, majestic and malicious’… ”

“I find a letter to her [Potocka], c/o Monsieur C. Ephrussi, 81 rue de Monceau, in the archives of the Louvre, from Puvis de Chavannes, the Symbolist painter of pallid figures and washed-out landscapes.”

CHAPTER 10 – My Small Profits
p.  90 Edouard Drumont  (anti-Dreyfus – anti-semitic)
Theodore Herzl 

On the Bourse – Degas

p.  149
Patrick Leigh Fermor  (a bit more than a “traveler”)

Chapter 11 – A Very Brilliant Five O’Clock

p.  97 – Rue de Monceau 

p.  101   And now lots of biggie names – from Rothschild to Bonaparte (Princess Mathilde)

1894 –
“the Jockey Club deserted table of the Princes of Israel.”

Dreyfuss affair –  yeah -buddy –  involved a lot of these same “biggie” names (and we can’t totally eliminate the Rothschilds although it’s unlikely – just my o)

p.  106   Rocks at Low Tide – Monet  also
Monet and Japan –  (use the menus at top of these pages  to compare etc.)

On to Section 2 –  next page >>>

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4 Responses to The Hare with the Amber Eyes – notes 1

  1. please write de Waal correctly, instead of de Wall!
    Thank you


  2. Got it – thanks. I know how to spell the name; I apparently don’t know how to edit for typos.


  3. γνῶθι σεαυτόν says:

    Thank you very much for all these notes; I’m reading this novel (in Spanish,I’ll see if I get the original versión, oh!, and excuse me my English, my main language is Catalan) and they are very handy.


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