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)

Tea-Leaves Overboard

Details
Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Tea-Leaves Overboard
signed and dated 'Ed 32 Burra.' (lower left)
ink, watercolour and gouache
22 x 29½ in. (56 x 75 cm.)
Provenance
with Redfern Gallery, London as ‘The Harbour’, where purchased by Wilfred A. Evill, January 1943, by whom bequeathed to Honor Frost in 1963.
The Evill/Frost Collection sale; Sotheby’s London, 15 June 2011, lot 30, where purchased by the present owner.
Literature
A. Causey, Edward Burra: Complete Catalogue, Oxford, 1985, n.p., no. 85, as ‘Harbour Scene’.
S. Martin, exhibition catalogue, Edward Burra, Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, 2011, p. 141, no. 135, illustrated.
Exhibited
London, Leicester Galleries, (1) Tissue Pictures by Beldy (2) Pictures by Edward J Burra, May - June 1932, no. 60.
London, British Institute of Adult Education, as ‘Harbour Scene’, catalogue not traced.
London, Leicester Galleries, A Selection of Pictures from the Collection of Wilfred A. Evill, October 1952, no. 37, as ‘The Harbour’.
London, The Home of Wilfred A. Evill, Contemporary Art Society, Pictures, Drawings, Watercolours and Sculpture, April - May 1961, no. 3, as ‘Harbour Scene’.
Brighton, City Art Gallery, The Wilfred Evill Memorial Exhibition, 1965, no. 14, as ‘Harbour Scene’.
Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, Edward Burra, October 2011 - February 2012, no. 135: this exhibition travelled to Nottingham, Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham, 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.

Lot Essay

‘Artists of all persuasions admire the powerful design in Burra’s compositions, the strength of drawings, the vivid colour and the authoritative and expressive handling of his chosen medium, watercolour’ (B. Robertson, in R. Littman (ed.), exhibition catalogue, A Sense of Place: The Paintings of Edward Burra and Paul Nash, New York, New York University, Grey Art Gallery and Study Centre, 1982, pp. 9-10).

This painting has an interesting provenance; its first owner was Wilfrid Evill, a London solicitor who was a discriminating collector of 20th Century British art from 1928 to his death in 1963. He was first drawn to the work of Stanley Spencer, and became a member of the little group of patrons who kept the painter financially afloat through the thirties. He went on to acquire an extensive and highly discriminating collection of paintings, including four by Edward Burra. This one was bought at Burra’s third one-man show, at Rex Nan Kivell’s Redfern Gallery in 1942.

Tea-Leaves Overboard is signed with ‘Burra 32’, indicating that it was first shown in the Leicester Gallery exhibition in June that year. Burra listed thirty-four paintings in his diary in 1929, not all of which survive, but none of the titles he gives are remotely suggestive of this painting of a barge, almost certainly moored at Rye Harbour, on the river Rother. It was therefore created between 1930 and 1932: given the maturity of its treatment, probably in 1931. It can hardly be later, since in January 1932, he wrote to his friend Barbara Ker-Seymer, ‘Thank you for your letter dearie & invitation which I cant accept till the beginning of March at least as I am having to do more than 15 paintings between now and the end of February. Ho Hum I am working all the morning and all the afternoon till darkness falls I have developed a special type of Pompeian Beauty Panel that I can do ever so quickly’. Evidently, he had not produced as many paintings as the gallery was expecting: however, his diary notes that he began Saturday Market, a serious picture, shortly after writing this letter, so the ‘Pompeian Beauty Panels’ must have taken up all his time from finishing The Market to the framers’ deadline. They form a recognisable group within his oeuvre, less meticulously finished than was his want, and mostly featuring pairs of tall, menacing female figures in surreal architectural settings. The least original of his works, they were, rather ironically, very well received, and Alfred Barr bought one for the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Leicester Gallery show was a great success; the art critic of the Observer wrote, ‘Nothing but admiration can, again, be felt for the exceptional qualities of Mr Burra’s technique, the incisive precision of the drawing, the infinitely varied, yet always coherent, organisation of the design, and the beautiful texture of the surface.’

In 1930, Burra went to Toulon with Paul Nash (another of Evill’s pictures, The Common Stair, dates from this visit), and they both became interested in surrealism. At various points in 1931, he visited Marseilles, Toulon and Paris, and many of the paintings which can be identified from this period address Continental themes. However, between these forays abroad, he mostly lived with his parents in Playden, near Rye. There is a nautical flavour to British modernism, particularly salient in the work of Christopher Wood, but also found in Edward Wadsworth and Tristram Hillier, both known to Burra, but as a lifelong resident of Rye, he did not need these connections to find boats visually interesting. He liked to walk, when his mobility problems permitted, and he was very familiar with the Sussex landscape, which inspired many paintings throughout his life.

An aspect of this picture which is characteristic of his early work is the highly decorative and symmetrical treatment of the rigging and winches which surround the barge’s mast (his treatment of the curly iron stair-rail in The Common Stair is similar). The hard edges and meticulous finish are also typical of his work in the thirties, and his liking for metalwork is evidenced in a Marseilles painting, Three Sailors (1930), with its detailed representation of an elaborate coffee machine. Both Wadsworth and John Bigge (with whom Burra was associated in ‘Unit One’) liked to paint machinery in ways which were not precisely surrealist, but had a dreamlike and mysterious quality which linked their work with that of painters such as de Chirico. Their images tend to be very static, but Burra, by contrast, always includes a dynamic element – in this painting, the bargee’s powerful, nonchalant figure, caught in the action of emptying out tea-leaves, with its implied movement. Another painting from the early thirties which has something in common with this one is Home Again, which was also exhibited in 1932. The subject is a rust-red heavy cargo ship with a stumpy, strongly supported mast, similar to that of the barge in Tea-Leaves Overboard, lying in harbour with the tide out. The anchor and chain feature prominently, and the picture is rescued from stasis by two small and perky dogs, one black, one white, making friends in the centre foreground.

We are very grateful to Professor Jane Stevenson for preparing this catalogue entry.

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