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Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE BRITISH COLLECTION
Edward Burra (1905-1976)

The Tram

Edward Burra (1905-1976)
The Tram
signed and dated 'E.J. Burra 1927-29' (lower centre)
pencil, watercolour and bodycolour
22½ x 15¼ in. (57 x 39 cm.)
There is a pencil drawing of figures in a bar by the artist on the reverse.
with Knoedler Gallery, London.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 22 June 1994, lot 75.
with Lefevre Gallery, London, where purchased by the previous owner at the 1995 exhibition.
with Martin Summers Fine Art, London, where purchased by the present owner.
A. Causey, Edward Burra Complete Catalogue, Oxford, 1985, no. 42, illustrated.
J. Stevenson, Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, London, 2007, p. 165.
S. Martin, Edward Burra, Farnham, 2012, p. 38, no. 30, illustrated.
London, Hayward Gallery, Edward Burra, August - September 1985, no. 21, incorrectly dated as 1925-26: this exhibition travelled to Southampton, Art Gallery, October - November 1985; Leeds, City Art Gallery, December 1985 - January 1986 and Norwich, Castle Museum, January 1986 - February 1986.
London, Lefevre Gallery, Modern British Artists 1900-1945, November - December 1995, catalogue not traced.
Chichester, Pallant House, Edward Burra, October 2011 - February 2012, no. 30: this exhibition travelled to Nottingham, University of Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Centre, March - May 2012.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

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Anne Haasjes
Anne Haasjes

Lot Essay

‘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’ (B. Robertson, Edward Burra at the Leicester Galleries in Art News and Review, London, 18 June, 1949, p. 4).

Urban life captivated Burra throughout his artistic career, thus acting as a central subject matter in a huge proportion of his works. Despite poor health that affected him for much of his life, Burra was a keen traveller and spent much time exploring and painting bustling scenes in Italy, Spain, France, Morocco, North and Central America and Ireland. The watercolour presented here, entitled The Tram is a strong example of his early works, and marks an important moment in the artist’s life – his first independent trip abroad. Having arrived in Paris in January 1927, he became immersed in the hubbub of city life and, after a short return to England, set off that autumn to the South of France. A great deal of his artistic production that year illustrates the artist’s fascination with the busy scenes of the French ports.

Burra captures the sense of being overwhelmed by crowds of people by pressing his figures right up against the surface of his pictures and arranging them so compactly that barely any are seen in fullness as they all overlap and squeeze against each other. Though fascinated by the metropolitan scenes of Nice, Cannes and Marseilles, he also found great enjoyment in rendering the shabbier demi-monde of the less luxurious areas of South of France inhabited by interesting, and sometimes sinister characters. The Tram is situated in the cheaper and less-visited port of Toulon, where Burra visited with his friends. Staying at the Hôtel de Port, which Jean Cocteau frequented, Burra often remained in his room and painted the view from his window while his friends spent most of their time indulging in the new fashionable trend of sunbathing. His room overlooked the tramlines, thus the watercolour presented here is evidently a view from the back bedroom of the hotel. From this period, one can see a series of other works painted from his accommodation including Balcony, Toulon, 1929 (private collection) and The Terrace, 1929 (private collection) and what unifies all of these is not only subject matter but also style.

In 1925 Burra met Paul Nash who inspired him to become involved in surrealism which certainly became a prominent stylistic influence. Though he never fully immersed himself in all its philosophies, the way Burra structures his compositions with slightly skewed proportions or perspective certainly contributes to an overall strangeness in keeping with the surrealist affinities. His heightened palette and strong use of outline creates static clarity that imbues a moving and fleeting scene with an eerie stillness. Furthermore, looking at the oddly angular faces of his figures, some of which have hollowed-out slits for eyes or heavily chiselled features, one can again see an affinity to the artistic movement Nash exposed him to. Looking at Burra’s urban scenes and that of the German Expressionists such as Otto Dix, similarities with this particular artistic movement are also brought to the fore. Their subject matters often overlap as they render shady characters in bars and cafes, but stylistically, the strangely contorted facial features and elongated, exaggerated or oddly-construed figures show a similar artistic mindset. Otto Dix even produced a painted collage entitled Tram (1919), almost a decade before Burra. Although far more cubist in aesthetic, the angularity and simplified figuration seen in Dix’s can also be found in Burra’s later exploration of the same theme, thus acting as an interesting comparison. German Expressionism overlapped with many other important movements of the first two decades of the twentieth century including Futurism, Vorticism, Cubism, Surrealism and Dada. The influx of varied inspirations found in Burra’s works is unsurprising therefore.

‘The power of [Burra’s] 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...’ (P. Rouve, 'Edward Burra' in The Arts Review, London, 11 October 1969, p. 650).

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