9
9
Edward Burra
MARRIAGE À LA MODE
ACCÉDER AU LOT
9
Edward Burra
MARRIAGE À LA MODE
ACCÉDER AU LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Modern & Post-War British Art

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Londres

Edward Burra
1905-1976
MARRIAGE À LA MODE
pencil, watercolour and gouache
61 by 48.5cm.; 24 by 19in.
Executed in 1928-9.
Lire le rapport d'état Lire le rapport d'état

Provenance

Leicester Galleries, London, where acquired by Olivia Wyndham, April 1929
Barbara Ker-Seymer by whom presented to Barbara Roett
Acquired from the above by the present owner in the 1990s                           

Exposition

London, Leicester Galleries, Exhibition of Works by E.J. Burra, April 1929, cat. no.18;
London, Tate, Edward Burra, May - July 1973, cat. no.12, illustrated;
New York, Grey Art Gallery, A Sense of Place, Edward Burra and Paul Nash, 24th February - 3rd April 1982, un-numbered exhibition;
London, Hayward Gallery, Edward Burra, 1st August - 29th September 1985, cat. no.24, illustrated;
London, Lefevre Fine Art Ltd, Edward Burra 1905-1976, A Centenary Exhibition, 11th May - 17th June 2005, cat. no.2, illustrated;
Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, Edward Burra, 22nd October 2011 - 19th February 2012, illustrated, with tour to Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham.

Bibliographie

Andrew Causey, Edward Burra, Complete Catalogue, Phaidon, Oxford, 1985, cat. no.41, illustrated;
Jane Stevenson, Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, Jonathan Cape, London, 2007, pp. 53 and 215;
Simon Martin (et. al.), Edward Burra, Lund Humphries in association with Pallant House Gallery, Farnham, 2011, p.42, illustrated fig.34.

Description

With characteristic verve and impish intent, Burra borrowed his title Marriage à la Mode from William Hogarth’s moralising series of six paintings in the National Gallery, London. Hogarth's works recount the tale of Viscount Squanderfield who is married off to the daughter of a wealthy merchant only to come to a sticky end when he is murdered by her lover and she commits suicide when her lover is executed. Burra’s version is certainly more mode than moral: Burra's bride flaunts her cleavage seductively, gazing unflinchingly at the priest who in turn, stares unashamedly at the dapper groom, their eyes locked in a longing gaze. Marriage à la Mode or ménage à trois, Burra delights in every detail of the risqué narrative. As his best friend Billy Chappell recalled, in the 1920s 'sexual ambiguity was the rule, Sexual promiscuity and sexual aberration the mode...’ (William Chappell, (ed.), Well Dearie!, The Letters of Edward Burra, Gordon Fraser, London, 1985, p.27).

The antithesis of marriage in the traditional sense, the painting is undoubtedly a celebration of Burra’s world and the era of the Bright Young Things. It is highly significant that the painting was acquired from his very first one man exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1929 by his friend Olivia Wyndham, socialite and professional party-girl who famously arrived at Norman Hartnell’s 1928 circus party as a snake charmer with real snakes entwined around her body. Burra and Billy Chappell met her through Frederick Ashton and her parties were infamous: ‘Well old sport Miss Wyndham gave a cocktail party last Friday and everybody was there the Kings Road & Sloane sq were lined with plainclothes detectives to guard Lady Dean Pauls priceless diamond ankle watch & the princess Haines pearls were the sinecure of all eyes till the eyes saw double which was very soon. from what I hear in my radio grammes they all went down like ninepins (and it was suspected that aphrodisiac had been added to the cocktails)...’ (letter to Billy Chappell, 5th March 1929, quoted in Well Dearie, ibid., p.55). Even Evelyn Waugh noted one of her soirées in his diary (which he doesn’t appear to have enjoyed): ‘It was not enough of an orgy. Masses of little lesbian tarts and toyboys. Only one fight...poor Hat [Brian Howard] looking like a tragedy queen...’ (quoted in Jane Stevenson, op.cit., p.84).

Olivia was particularly close to one of Burra’s best friends, Barbara Ker-Seymer who went to work for her as a photographer’s assistant and became one of her many lovers. Indeed, Olivia later engaged in her own Marriage à la Mode: having moved to New York in 1929, she became the 4th wife of Howland Spencer in 1930 whilst she was at the same time head over heels in love with the black American actress Edna Thomas. It was with Olivia and Edna (and remarkably, Edna’s husband Lloyd - another Marriage à la Mode) that Burra stayed when he first visited the city in 1933 and was catapulted into the heart of the Harlem renaissance. It is tantalizing to imagine that Olivia brought Marriage à la Mode with her to New York, a city that excited Burra beyond comparison as is evident by the pulsating energy of his Harlem pictures such as Striptease (fig. 1, 1934, sold in these rooms 13th December 2007, lot 61) and Savoy Ballroom (1934, sold in these rooms, 10th December 2013, lot 24). In any case, Olivia later gave Barbara Ker-Seymour the picture and thence to her long term partner Barbara Roett.  

Hogarth would have relished in the gossip mill of Burra’s world and the younger artist perhaps repays the compliment by using Hogarth's more formal The Wedding of Stephen Beckingham and Mary Cox, (fig. 2, 1729, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) as a basic blueprint for the compositional arrangement of Marriage à la Mode: Hogarth’s cherubs with their freshly scented cornucopia of flowers are replaced with two floating acrobatic children who douse the bride and groom with water whilst the 18th century apathetic bystanders have been supplanted by a mother of the bride on the far left who looks distinctly out of place amongst the more fashionable guests, as a bird hatches out of her hat. A mischievous swipe no doubt at the doddering old folk of Burra's hometown, Rye, in Sussex, which he dubbed Tinkerbell Town.  

Modern & Post-War British Art

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