Edward Burra (1905-1976)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Edward Burra (1905-1976)


Edward Burra (1905-1976)
signed with studio stamp 'E.J. Burra' (lower right)
pencil and watercolour
41 x 28¾ in. (104 x 73 cm.)
Executed in 1957-59.
with Lefevre Gallery, London, where purchased by Mr Anthony Firebrace in the 1960s, and by descent.
Anonymous sale; Bonhams, London, 11 July 2006, lot 56.
A. Causey, Edward Burra: Complete Catalogue, Oxford, 1985, no. 252, illustrated.
London, Lefevre Gallery, Watercolour by Edward Burra, May 1959, no. 4.
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.

Brought to you by

André Zlattinger
André Zlattinger

Lot Essay

After thirty years of being asked 'why do you paint such awful things?', Burra began painting flowers in the fifties, and consequently, started producing pictures which people liked. He wrote wryly to the poet Conrad Aiken in 1956, 'I seem to be having quite a little success with flower paintings and my little success has not gone to my head as they say in the song. I suppose they don't frighten people'. Although this was not always the case. One contemporary critic, David Sylvester, writing in the New Statesman, saw that the flower pictures had their own capacity to evoke disquietude. They were, he thought, 'perhaps the most pungent things Burra has ever given us, because they are more subtle pictorially than the subject pictures: they are also more vividly, more intensely, striking and disturbing, precisely because they need nothing other than their spiky shapes and clashing colours to make them so'.

Burra lived till he was forty-eight in a house with a well-stocked, somewhat jungly, eleven-acre garden. Some of his first surviving paintings and drawings were inspired by it, and he spent a lot of time there. In 1953, his parents gave up the Playden house and moved into Rye, taking him with them. Always intensely focused on his work, he seems to have given the move no thought until, like a domestic pet, he was deposited in his new quarters. He then realised how much the garden at Playden was important to him. His reaction to his new home suggests blank dismay: 'our very own little garden [in the new house] is a lovesome spot consisting of coke logs & mud. The soil is wonderful consisting of pipe stems old teeth & oyster shells to the depth of 1 foot'. It may not be a coincidence that he began to use flowers as the central theme of paintings at this time, which might help to explain his flower-pictures' curious emotional charge.

Burra's flower paintings are unique, monumental, and alarming. Unlike traditional bouquet paintings in the Dutch tradition, his compositions have no fictive dimensionality, and they are also quite unlike botanical illustrations, because expressive, not descriptive. Yet they show a tremendous awareness of different plants' specific qualities: this particular bouquet is unmistakably of love-in-a-mist and daylilies, with a couple of erigeron for variety. Old English garden flowers, the sort he knew at Playden. The daylilies are the old-fashioned lemon-yellow species, slimmer and less stridently coloured than recent hybrid varieties. The delicate bracts of the love-in-a-mist are a green lace net between the stems, setting off the spiky ruffs of the actual flowers.

Just as Burra's landscapes often have an inner life, so do his flower-pictures. The intensity of the blue-green-yellow tones of the bouquet, erupting like a geyser of colour, is enhanced by the strong russet of the ground on which it stands, which is disconcertingly populated. Somewhere between animal and mineral, the squat, enigmatic homunculi to the left stare back at one, encouraging one to read the right hand group of transparent forms, also, as figures.

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

More from Modern British Art Day Sale

View All
View All