Chelsea College of Arts, University of the Arts London (UAL), 16 John Islip St, Westminster, London SW1P 4JU, Regno Unito
Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, Kensington, London SW7 2EU, Regno Unito
Springfield Court, Rye Rd, Rye TN31, Regno Unito
Rye Cemetery, Rye TN31, Regno Unito
Edward John Burra (29 March 1905 – 22 October 1976) was an English painter, draughtsman, and printmaker, best known for his depictions of the urban underworld, black culture and the Harlem scene of the 1930s.
Burra was born on 29 March 1905 at his grandmother's house in Elvaston Place, London, to Henry Curteis Burra, J.P., of Springfield Lodge, Rye, East Sussex, and Ermentrude Anne (née Robinson Luxford). His father, of a Westmorland family traceable back to the fourteenth century, was a barrister and later Chairman of East Sussex County Council. Edward attended preparatory school at Northaw Place in Potters Bar but in 1917 suffered from pneumonia and had to be withdrawn from school and home-educated. Burra took art classes with a Miss Bradley in Rye in 1921, then studied at Chelsea School of Art until 1923, and from 1923 to 1925 at the Royal College of Art under drawing tutors Randolph Schwabe and Raymond Coxon.
In March 1925, while travelling in Italy, Burra suffered with rheumatic fever. He met Paul Nash in the summer of 1925. Burra visited Paris with William Chappell in October 1925. In 1926, Burra travelled with his family to visit his sister in Florence, Italy, and also visited Siena and Paris. In 1927, he visited Paris with Lucy Norton and Sophie Fedorovitch, who painted his portrait, now lost. Burra was introduced to Oliver Brown of the Leicester Galleries in August 1927; in September–October, Burra and Chappell travelled to the south of France; in December, Burra exhibited at the New English Art Club. Nash offered to teach Burra wood engraving in February 1928; Burra was commissioned by Crawfords to design vehicle advertising signs, which were rejected, in May 1928. Burra visited Toulon with Chappell, Irene Hodgkins, Barbara Ker-Seymer, Brian Howard and Anthony Powell. From October to December 1928, he stayed in Paris with Chappell, Fedorovitch, Frederick Ashton, Cedric Morris, Arthur Lett-Haines, Arthur Mahoney and John Banting. Burra visited dance halls and music halls on the rue de Lappe.
Burra's first solo show was held at the Leicester Galleries in 1929. In May 1929, he visited Paris with Chappell, Ashton, Fedorovitch, Mahoney and Birgit Batholin. His sister Betsy died of meningitis in August 1929. He visited Scotland with his mother in September 1929. In October 1929, Burra exhibited with the London Group; woodblock prints were shown at the Society of Wood-Engravers exhibition at the Redfern Gallery in London. In January 1930, he began to make collages with Paul Nash. Later that year, he travelled with Paul and Margaret Nash to Paris and the South of France. In October 1931, he exhibited in Recent Developments in British Painting, with John Armstrong, Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Ben Nicholson, at Arthur Tooth & Sons in London. Ashton's ballet A Day in a Southern Port (Rio Grande) opened at the Savoy, London in November 1931 with sets and costumes by Burra. He was a member of Unit One in 1933 and showed with the English Surrealists later in the 1930s.
Burra travelled widely, and many influences are at play in his works, which were usually watercolour on a large scale in strong colours. During World War Two, when it became impossible to travel, he also became involved in designing scenery and costumes for ballet, opera and theatre including Miracle in the Gorbals and became very successful in that field. He declined associate membership of the Royal Academy in 1963. He accepted a CBE in 1971. The Tate Gallery held a retrospective of his work in 1973. In conjunction with the exhibition at Tate, the Arts Council of Great Britain produced a documentary about his life and work, Edward Burra. All the footage of the interview with Burra conducted for this film was assembled into a documentary in 1981, The Burra Interview. In this interview, Burra avers that "Nothing matters." He praises Yorkshire because "it's nice and bare".
After breaking his hip in 1974, his health declined sharply and he died in Hastings in 1976. The Tate Gallery Archive holds considerable materials relating to Burra, including his letters.