Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye by Jane Stevenson - review by Frances Spalding

Frances Spalding

Menace in the Mundane

Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye


Jonathan Cape 496pp £30

Sandwiches, ordinarily, might not seem objects worthy of satire. But in The Snack Bar, a famous painting by Edward Burra belonging to the Tate, a woman, dolled up to the nines, caught under garish light, her lipsticked mouth wide open, is about to close her teeth on a large sandwich. An everyday act becomes appalling and the viewer shivers with fascinated horror.

Burra had a knack for finding menace in the mundane. And it entered not only his art but also his letters, which often began: 'Well, dearie ...'. He never learnt to spell, but instead coined words in a manner of his own devising, at times phonetic and at others deliberately camp, in the style of an Edwardian tart. 'Mrs R', he observed of a former Bohemian friend, 'is becoming terribly Boorgwah in her old age. its those relations in Summerset or wherever Flower shows and wimmins institutes and that – Blood will out.'

Burra grew up at Springfield Lodge, not far from Rye. The family money came from banking, and the large Victorian mansion had a platoon of servants. The south-east of England, he once observed, had a great deal of money and not a bit of art, but in Rye he made

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