Edward Burra was born in London in 1905. He briefly attended boarding school but when he caught pneumonia in 1917 he was sent home to Rye and his formal education came to an end. Burra's education continued at home where he was surrounded by books. The Burra household was highly cultivated and arty and Burra was encouraged to read and draw. Between 1921 and 1923 Burra attended the Chelsea Polytechnic where he studied life-drawing, illustration and architectural drawing. It was here that Burra developed an interest in jazz and the cinema and made friends that he would keep for the rest of his life. This was followed by two years at the Royal College of Art between 1923-1925. 

Burra travelled extensively during his lifetime spending time in Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, North and Central America and Ireland. In 1925 Burra met Paul Nash, who encouraged him to exhibit his work and taught him wood engraving and collage making. Paul Nash exposed Burra to Surrealism which captivated him. While he did dabble in the movement and was briefly a member of Unit One, Burra was never whole-heartedly part of any artistic group. Burra also designed costumes and sets for theatre and opera productions, particularly during the War years when travel was more difficult.

Burra suffered from poor health throughout his life. As he grew older it became more difficult for him to travel as far or as extensively. In his later years, his sister Anne drove him around Britain and he produced many landscape paintings at this time. Burra died in Hastings in 1976, at the age of 71.

Subjects and style

Urban life was one of Burra's main areas of interest, in particular the seedy underworld and the colourful and sinister characters that populated it. Later in life, he turned his attention to landscape and still life paintings. While Burra initially painted in oil, his rheumatoid arthritis soon made it too difficult for him to stand for any length of time and he began painting in watercolour. He would lay sheets of paper flat on the table and draw the outline of his subjects, starting in the bottom right hand corner of the paper working his way up to the top, adding sheets on where necessary, and later filling in the outline with colour.

Edward Burra & Lefevre 

Edward Burra had his first one-man show at the Lefevre Gallery in 1952, at the age of 47. Burra met Gerald Corcoran through one his friends, Beatrice 'Bumble' Dawson, in the '20s. Gerald continued to support Burra after his first purchase of Dancing Cows in 1929, for £5. When in the 1930s Gerald began working at the Matthiesen's Gallery, he acted as Burra's agent and sold his work to the Tate through the gallery. After the War, Gerald dealt privately from his home and in 1949 A. J. Mc Neil Reid approached him to revive Alex Reid & Lefevre. Gerald ran the gallery with great success and he eventually became the owner. The Lefevre Gallery showed Burra's work almost every other year between 1952 and 1980

Edward Burra Estate

Lefevre Fine Art administers the Edward Burra Estate. For further information please contact the gallery.

Critics on Edward Burra

Edward Burra at the Leicester Galleries, by Bryan Robertson, 'Art News and Review', p. 4, June 18th, 1949:

'...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 moralising comment.'

Edward Burra: Singular Visionary, by Neville Wallis, 'Connoisseur', p.40, May 1965:

'The Lefevre Gallery may be best known abroad for its long and distinguished association of the mainstream of Continental art since Degas. But it also gives enlightened support to some English painters who, at times, have been thought idiosyncratic to the point of eccentricity. In fact, however, Edward Burra at sixty is our one consistently imaginative survivor of that Surrealist handful which became a force in British art in the middle 1930s...'

Edward Burra by Pierre Rouve, 'The Arts Review', p. 650, 11th October, 1969:

'...The power of his 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...'

Edward Burra, by Nigel Foxell, 'Arts Review', p. 243, 24th April, 1971:

'...The beauty-spot and the eyesore are as inseparable as Burra's form and content. The same moral operation is at work throughout. The man-made and the natural are governed by the same laws, we are shaped by the world we shape...'

A Rye View by Desmond Corcoran, 'Tate Etc'. p. 94, issue 12, Spring 2008:

'Edward Burra: He had six paintings in London's International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936 but was never formally a Surrealist. His work has always been hard to define. From his 1930s Harlem pictures to the much underrated late landscapes, Burra's view of the world was unlike that of any of his contemporaries.'

Edward Burra Exhibitions 

One-man exhibitions

  • April 1929 - Leicester Galleries

  • May 1932 - Leicester Galleries

  • May 1937 - Springfield Museum of Art, Massachusettes

  • November 1942 - Redfern Gallery

  • July 1947 - Leicester Galleries

  • March 1952 - Lefevre Gallery

  • January 1955 - Magdalene Sothman Gallery, Amsterdam (retrospective)

  • April 1955 - Lefevre Gallery

  • April 1955 - Swetzoff Gallery, Boston

  • October 1956 - Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence

  • May 1957 - Lefevre Gallery

  • July 1961 - Lefevre Gallery

  • April 1963 - Lefevre Gallery

  • May 1965 - Lefevre Gallery

  • May 1967 - Lefevre Gallery

  • April 1969 - Lefevre Gallery

  • October 1969 - Lefevre Gallery (drawings)

  • April 1971 - Lefevre Gallery

  • July 1971 - Treadwell Gallery (woodcuts 1928-9)

  • October 1971 - Lefevre Gallery (The Early Years)

  • October 1971 - Hamet Gallery (Drawings of 1920s & 1930s)

  • May 1973 - Tate Gallery (Retrospective)

  • May 1973 - Lefevre Gallery

  • May 1975 - Lefevre Gallery

  • May 1977 - Lefevre Gallery (Memorial Retrospective Exhibition)

  • October 1977 - Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffied and Sunderland Public Library

  • March-May 1980 - Lefevre Gallery

  • April 1980 - Anthony d'Offay (Early Works)

  • April 1982 - Lefevre Gallery (paintings 1975-6)

  • August-September 1985 - Hayward Gallery

  • November-December 1987 - Lefevre Gallery

  • June-July 1993 - Lefevre Gallery (Drawings from the 1920s and 1930s)

  • December 1994 - Lefevre Gallery (The Formative Years)

  • February-March 2001 - Spring Olympia Fine Art & Antiques Fair

  • December 2005 - Lefevre Fine Art (A Centenary Exhibition)

  • January - May 2008 - Tate Britain (a selection of Harlem pictures shown)

  • October 2011 - February 2012 - Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

  • March - May 2012 - Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham

Public Collections

Bedford, Cecil Higgins Art Gallery6 Belfast, Ulster Museum

  • Bury, Art Gallery

  • Dundee Art Gallery

  • Eastbourne, Tower Art Gallery

  • Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

  • Gloucester Art Gallery

  • Hove Art Gallery

  • Huddersfield Art Gallery

  • Leeds City Art Gallery

  • London, Arts Council of Great Britain

  • London, British Council

  • London, British Museum

  • London, Imprerial War Museum

  • London, Tate Britain

  • London, Victoria and Albert Museum

  • University of Manchester, Whitworth Art Gallery

  • Nottingham, Castle Museum

  • Portsmouth Art Gallery

  • Rye Art Gallery

  • Southampton Art Gallery

  • York City Art Gallery


  • Adelaide, National Art Gallery of South Australia

  • Fredericton, News Brunswick, Beaverbrook Art Gallery

  • Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria

  • New York, Museum of Modern Art

  • Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada

  • Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales

  • Wellington, National Art Gallery of New Zealand