© Estate of the Artist c/o Lefevre Fine Art Ltd, London


Edward Burra (1905 – 1976)


790 x 570 MM
Accession number


Heady roses, peas winking out of their pods and a curvaceous little salt cellar place the fig, this most voluptuous of fruit, in a light that is ripe and salty with association. Edward Burra’s fig has a scraping of green skin peeled away, to reveal the layer of pith beneath, white as belly fat. The plumpness of the fruit’s modelling is enhanced by contrast with Burra’s naif flattening-out of the table top. In an oil painting made in the same year, The Snack Bar (Tate, London), Burra exhibits a similar fascination – humorous and unsettling – with the peeling away of an outer layer. In The Snack Bar a lightbulb glares alongside a hatted lady, toothily taking refreshment, while at the counter below, a slice flops away from a side of ham at the bidding of the barman’s knife.

Born in South Kensington, London, Burra was the second son to wealthy parents; his childhood, spent in the steep coastal town of Rye, East Sussex, was beset by ill health. He started at art school in London at the age of 16, spending two years at Chelsea Polytechnic, then a further two years at the Royal College of Art, buoyed by a close group of friends. Done with studies by 1925, he went on to spend much of the rest of the decade in the South of France, particularly attracted by the urban life of Toulon and Marseilles. The English coast meets the Mediterranean in this still life, where fresh produce is pitted against pebbles and grey skies. A whiff of modernity and low haunts is introduced by the box of Players Navy Cut cigarettes, jostling among the pebbles and peas. This English tobacco brand, with its logo of a smoking sailor in a ‘Navy Cut’ cap, was one of the first companies to sell pre-packaged tobacco, and to include sets of collectible cards in cigarette packs.

Further reading
Jane Stevenson, Edward Burra (Jonathan Cape, London 2007)
William Chappell (ed.), Well Dearie! The Letters of Edward Burra (Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd, London 1985)
Andrew Causey, Edward Burra: Complete Catalogue (Phaidon Press, Oxford,1985)
Edward Burra (Tate, London 1973)
John Rothenstein, Edward Burra, Penguin Mod. Masters (Harmondsworth, London 1945)