Edward Burra, 'Zoot Suits', 1948. Watercolour on paper, Private Collection, courtesy Susannah Pollen Ltd ©Estate of the Artist c/o Lefevre Fine Art Ltd, London. This exhibition at Pallant House, the first for nearly 25 years, is a timely reminder of the extraordinary nature of Edward Burra’s art. Utterly unique, his work sits defiantly outside the mainstream. Burra (1905–1976) suffered poor health and was crippled with arthritis, yet in spite of his disabilities he produced pictures of startling originality and in the most difficult of artistic mediums to master, watercolour. In Burra’s crippled hands, he shows what a gutsy medium watercolour can become - applying colour delicately or piling colour upon colour with a loaded brush.
Pallant House’s show is perfectly formed with wonderful loans from throughout Burra’s career, showing his love of low life and the exotic, the macabre and the sinister. His pictures are packed with telling detail and menace. Early scenes of Harlem bars and nightclubs in the 1920s give way to the sinister soldiers of the '30s and '40s, the harbingers of the woes that were to befall the world during World War II.
Edward Burra, 'An English Country Scene II', 1970. Watercolour on paper, 78.7 x 133.4cm, Simon Draper. © Estate of the Artist c/o Lefevre Fine Art Ltd, London.
For me it is the later majestic landscapes that have particular appeal. Distilled from his imagination, these works of the '60s and '70s show a creeping industrialisation and the scarring of the landscape: a green warrior before his time.
Edward Burra, 'The Straw Man', 1963. Watercolour on paper, 78.8 x 111.8cm, Pallant House Gallery (On long-term loan from a private collection, 2006)© Estate of the Artist c/o Lefevre Fine Art Ltd, London The Burra show is a good enough reason to visit Pallant House, a jewel of a museum, the 18th century house converted and exquisitely extended by Sandy Wilson, whose major collection of British art from the '60s and '70s is on permanent display. The museum is enhanced by a fine restaurant (you will need to book) and a small but intriguing bookshop, a feature of which is the out of print titles that reflect the strengths of the collection of early to mid 20th century British art. A short distance away is the magnificent Norman cathedral with its many treasures including the two 12th century Lazarus reliefs that were such an inspiration to the formative careers of Eric Gill and John Craxton. A wonderful day out.
'Edward Burra' is at Pallant House, Chichester until 19 February 2012. www.pallant.org.uk