Edward Burra was an English painter, draughtsman and printmaker, best known for his depictions of the urban underworld, black culture and the Harlem scene of the 1930s. Born in South Kensington, London, Burra studied at Chelsea School of Art from 1921-3, and the Royal College of Art from 1923-4.
Burra was often drawn to rather sordid subjects. Although he admired the work of satirists such as George Grosz, Burra’s work does not savagely attack the vices of people in the underworld, but merely exposes them for what they are. Burra’s diversity in both subject matter and style is quite remarkable. Many of his paintings feature ghoul-like figures or animals which appear possessed, drawn in a manner reminiscent of painters like El Greco and Goya. He also produced vibrant costume designs for the theatre which are works of art in their own right. He had his first solo show at the Leicester Galleries in 1929.
Around 1930, Burra’s interests moved further to the edges of society. Evil, violence, and harsh notes become more common in his work. He was a member of Unit One and showed with the English Surrealist in the 1930's. After 1942, the emphasis gradually changed to landscape. Unlike his other worldly, ghoul-like figures, Burra’s landscapes are typically British. Following the Romantics, he looked for remote places such as the Lake District and the Yorkshire Moors.
Burra declined membership of the Royal Academy in 1963 after being elected, but was made CBE in 1971. The Tate Gallery held a retrospective of his work in 1973.