Exhibition: Edward Burra @ Pallant House Gallery

Edward Burra, An English Scene No.2, 1970

Edward Burra at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 19 February 2012

Through a selection of around 70 major works from across the artist’s career, this exhibition at Pallant House Gallery focuses on Burra’s sharply-observed social commentary and unique draftsmanship. The show will feature Burra’s iconic images of everyday people at leisure in bars and clubs, the black culture of 1930’s Harlem, the sub-culture of harbours and ports, his macabre dancing skeletons and stunning late landscapes. The exhibition will also explore the influence of jazz music and cinema, and his forays into the darker sides of humanity. There is also an accompanying catalogue, which should help to promote this fanscinating but relatively neglected figure in the field of British art research.

For much of his life Burra lived in the picturesque Sussex town of Rye, which formed a base for his travels to such diverse places as the South of France, Spain, Mexico, and the USA. He was drawn to the cheap glamour of Parisian music halls and nightclubs that appear in his paintings such as ‘Les Follies de Belleville’ and he depicted the seedier side of society, such as sailors and prostitutes in the ports of Southern France, in iconic paintings such as ‘Market Day’ (1926) and ‘Dockside Café, Marseilles’ (1929). His humorous images of cafés and bars capture an exuberant sense of the Jazz Age – for Burra was a huge fan of jazz and swing music. In his paintings he drew inspiration not only from Renaissance paintings, and 18th-century conversation pieces by artists such as William Hogarth, but also Hollywood cinema and French avant-garde literature.

His affectionate depictions of the street life of 1930s Harlem in New York led him to be described as the ‘best painter of the American Scene’ and he later visited Boston where he created memorable images of the city’s nightlife such as ‘Silver Dollar Bar’ (c.1953). In the late 1940s he also recorded the arrival of the first Jamaican immigrants to Britain who had arrived on the SS Windrush in the painting ‘Zoot Suits’ (1948).

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