The painter Edward Burra never told anybody anything.


I’ll concede that prior to stumbling on this BBC documentary, I’d heard of Edward Burra only briefly, purely in passing. Now I’m appalled at my negligence.

Here are three randomly chosen views of his work.

Burra died in 1976, but lately his work has been selling for staggering sums. There was a major retrospective in the UK a few years back, reviewed here:

Edward Burra, transgressive painter of English countryside and dockside bars, by Kathryn Hughes (The Guardian)

No one has ever been sure what to do with Edward Burra, the British painter whose most celebrated work was produced in the 1920s and 30s. Looked at one way, he’s a satirist along the lines of Otto Dix or George Grosz, a social realist with a sharp distorting eye for the human figure writhing and bridling its way through various vanity fairs. Looked at another way, though, Burra is a romantic landscapist, with all the yearning for English soil of his friend and sometime mentor Paul Nash. But then there are the bright colours, the oranges, blues and greens that flash out from his work, which hardly fit with modernism’s subfusc palette and pared-down aesthetic. It is all very confusing, which is why some art historians have dismissed Burra as an aberration.

They won’t be able to get away with that for much longer. A new exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, of 70 of Burra’s most important paintings is proof, if any were still needed, that he is simply too good to be sidelined.

This exhibition also was reviewed by Gavin Burrows at his Lucid Frenzy Junior blog, where I borrowed the photos above, and where there are many more.

Edward Burra 1
Edward Burra 2

“Glamour and squalor appealed to him in equal measure” – curator Simon Martin
“I never tell anybody anything. So they just make it up.” – Edward Burra, 1973

Not So Naive

Orthodoxy states that an artist’s reputation is either cemented or demolished by his death. But as pretty much everything about Edward Burra was unorthodox, things didn’t work out that way. Despite ill health, including arthritic hands seemingly unable to hold a brush, he worked solidly from the Twenties through to his death in 1976. After which he lay pretty much ignored, for this is the first major show dedicated to him in over a quarter-century.