Home Edward Burra

Edward Burra

Edward Burra was born in London in 1905. He briefly attended boarding school but when he caught pneumonia in 1917 he was sent home to Rye and his formal education came to an end. Burra's education continued at home where he was surrounded by books. The Burra household was highly cultivated and arty and Burra was encouraged to read and draw. Between 1921 and 1923 Burra attended the Chelsea Polytechnic where he studied life-drawing, illustration and architectural drawing. It was here that Burra developed an interest in jazz and the cinema and made friends that he would keep for the rest of his life. This was followed by two years at the Royal College of Art between 1923-1925.
Burra travelled extensively during his lifetime spending time in Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, North and Central America and Ireland. In 1925 Burra met Paul Nash who encouraged him to exhibit his work and taught him wood engraving and collage making. Paul Nash exposed Burra to surrealism which captivated him and while he did dabble in the movement and was briefly a member of Unit One Burra was never whole-heartedly part of any artistic group. Burra also designed costumes and sets for theatre and opera productions particularly during the war years when travel was more difficult.

Burra suffered from poor health throughout his life and as he grew older it became more difficult for him to travel as far or as extensively. In his later years his sister Anne drove him round Britain and he produced many landscape paintings at this time. Burra died in Hastings in 1976 at the age of 71.
Urban life was one of Burra's main areas of interest, in particular the seedy underworld and the colourful and sinister characters that populated it. Later in life he turned his attention to landscape and still life paintings. While Burra initially painted in oil his rheumatoid arthritis soon made it too difficult for him to stand for any length of time and he began painting in watercolour. He would lay sheets of paper flat on the table and draw the outline of his subjects, starting in the bottom right hand corner of the paper working his way up to the top, adding sheets on where necessary, and later filling in the outline with colour.
Edward Burra had his first one-man show at the Lefevre Gallery in 1952 at the age of 47. Burra met Gerald Corcoran through one his friends, Beatrice 'Bumble' Dawson, in the 20s. Gerald continued to support Burra after his first purchase of Dancing Cows in 1929 for 5. When in the 1930's Gerald began working at the Matthiesen's Gallery he acted as Burra's agent and sold his work to the Tate through the gallery. After the war Gerald dealt privately from his home and in 1949 A. J. Mc Neil Reid approached him to revive Alex Reid & Lefevre. Gerald ran the gallery with great success and he eventually became the owner. The Lefevre Gallery showed Burra's work almost every other year between 1952 and 1980.
Lefevre Fine Art administers the Edward Burra Estate for further information please contact the gallery.
Edward Burra at the Leicester Galleries by Bryan Robertson Art News and Review p.4, June 18th 1949
'..Burra's world is a very contemporary world of men and their affairs, and he is always the spectator, a little outside the extravagant and unpleasant spectacle. As an observer of motives, and their effects on the passive as well as the active participants, he is detached and quite unmoved: he accepts unreservedly the grimmer aspects of the world around him and rarely makes any moralizing comment."
Edward Burra, singular visionary by Neville Wallis Connoisseur p.40, May 1965 "The Lefevre Gallery may be best known abroad for its long and distinguished association of the mainstream of Continental art since Degas. But it also gives enlightened support to some English painters who, at times, have been thought idiosyncratic to the point of eccentricity. In fact, however, Edward Burra at sixty is our one consistently imaginative survivor of that Surrealist handful which became a force in British art in the middle 1930s..."

Edward Burra by Pierre Rouve
The Arts Review p.650, 11th October 1969

...'The power of his larger compositions is unique and uniquely disconcerting in the eyes of those convinced that watercolours can only water down all colours. To ask them to convey emotional intensity and cerebral strength would seem absurd...And yet this miracle occurs time and time again in Burra's work...'

Edward Burra by Nigel Foxell Arts Review p.243, 24th April 1971

...'The beauty-spot and the eyesore are as inseparable as Burra's form and content. The same moral operation is at work throughout. The man-made and the natural are governed by the same laws, we are shaped by the world we shape...'

A Rye View by Desmond Corcoran Tate Etc. p. 94, issue 12-Spring 2008

'Edward Burra: He had six paintings in London's International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 but was never formally a Surrealist. His work has always been hard to define. From his 1930s Harlem pictures to the much underrated late landscapes, Burra's view of the world was unlike that of any of his contemporaries.'

Edward Burra Exhibitions

One-man exhibitions

April 1929 - Leicester Galleries

May 1932 - Leicester Galleries

May 1937 - Springfield Museum of Art, Massachusettes

November 1942 - Redfern Gallery

July 1947 - Leicester Galleries

March 1952 - Lefevre Gallery

January 1955 - Magdalene Sothman Gallery, Amsterdam (retrospective)

April 1955 - Lefevre Gallery

April 1955 - Swetzoff Gallery, Boston

October 1956 - Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

May 1957 - Lefevre Gallery

July 1961 - Lefevre Gallery

April 1963 - Lefevre Gallery

May 1965 - Lefevre Gallery

May 1967 - Lefevre Gallery

April 1969 - Lefevre Gallery

October 1969 - Lefevre Gallery (drawings)

April 1971 - Lefevre Gallery

July 1971 - Treadwell Gallery (woodcuts 1928-9)

October 1971 - Lefevre Gallery (The Early Years)

October 1971 - Hamet Gallery (Drawings of 1920s & 1930s)

May 1973 - Tate Gallery (Retrospective)

May 1973 - Lefevre Gallery

May 1975 - Lefevre Gallery

May 1977 - Lefevre Gallery (Memorial Retrospective Exhibition)

October 1977 - Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffied and Sunderland Public Library

March-May 1980 - Lefevre Gallery

April 1980 - Anthony d'Offay (Early Works)

April 1982 - Lefevre Gallery (paintings 1975-6)

August-September 1985 - Hayward Gallery

November-December 1987 - Lefevre Gallery

June-July 1993 - Lefevre Gallery (Drawings from the 1920s and 1930s)

December 1994 - Lefevre Gallery (The Formative Years)

February-March 2001 - Spring Olympia Fine Art & Antiques Fair

December 2005 - Lefevre Fine Art (A Centenary Exhibition)

January - May 2008 - Tate Britain (a selection of Harlem pictures shown)

October 2011 - February 2012 - Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

March - May 2012 - Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham

Public Collections

Bedford, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery6

Belfast, Ulster Museum

Bury, Art Gallery
Dundee Art Gallery
Eastbourne, Tower Art Gallery
Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art
Gloucester Art Gallery
Hove Art Gallery
Huddersfield Art Gallery
Leeds City Art Gallery
London, Arts Council of Great Britain
London, British Council
London, British Museum
London, Imprerial War Museum
London, Tate Britain
London, Victoria and Albert Museum
University of Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery
Nottingham, Castle Museum
Portsmouth Art Gallery
Rye Art Gallery
Southampton Art Gallery
York City Art Gallery


Adelaide, National Art Gallery of South Australia
Fredericton, News Brunswick, Beaverbrook Art Gallery
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria
New York, Museum of Modern Art
Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada

Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Wellington, National Art Gallery of New Zealand

Back to top