Lot 22
  • 22

Edward Burra

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Edward Burra
  • Irish Street Scene
  • pencil, ink, watercolour and wash
  • 67.5 by 103cm.; 26¾ by 40½in.
  • Executed in 1948.


Lady Ritchie of Dundee, Rye, Kent
Alex. Reid & Lefevre, London, where acquired by the present owner


London, Tate, Edward Burra, 23rd May - 8th July 1973, cat. no.82 (as Dublin Street Scene No.2);
Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, Body & Soul, October 1975 - January 1976, cat. no.70;
London, Alex. Reid & Lefevre Ltd, An Exhibition of Works by Edward Burra, 4th November - 18th December 1987, cat. no.14, illustrated:
London, Crane Kalman Gallery, Edward Burra, 10th April - 10th May 2008 (details untraced);
Chichester, Pallant House Gallery, Edward Burra, 22nd October 2011 - 10th February 2012, un-numbered exhibition, illustrated, with tour to Djanogoly Art Gallery, University of Nottingham, Nottingham.


Andrew Causey, Edward Burra, Complete Catalogue, Phaidon, Oxford, 1985, cat. no.184, illustrated;
Simon Martin et. al., Edward Burra, Lund Humphries in association with Pallant House Gallery, Farnham, 2011, pp.92-3, illustrated fig.86.


The sheet is fully laid down to a backing card, with a very minor deckled lower edge, not visible in the present mount, and a small pin hole in the upper right corner, again, not visible in the present mount. There is a single instance of very slight compression and gathering to the paper at the centre of the extreme bottom edge, not visible in the present mount. There are a couple of traces of very minor studio detritus with a very slight spot of staining or early possible foxing to the pavement on the extreme right hand edge of the composition. This excepting the work appears in excellent overall condition, with strong, vivid colours throughout. Housed behind glass in a thick gilt frame, set within a red linen-textured mount. Please contact the department on +44 (0) 207 293 6424 if you have any questions regarding the present work.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The present work is part of a series of intriguing and uncanny paintings Burra completed in 1948, including The Alley Ireland (1948, Private Collection) and Dublin Street Scene (1948, The Ulster Museum, Belfast), which were inspired by his Irish travels.

Burra first experienced Ireland during his journey back from Mexico in 1937, when he briefly stopped over in Galway.  Although he failed to leave the ship, Burra was captivated by the landscape he saw along the coast, writing to Paul Nash ‘… I wish to go to the West of Ireland now leaving Galway Bay where 200 got off for a squint at the ould sod we passed by the coast & its quite lovely terrific towering rocks black with vitreous green and grey mountains & not a soul & beautiful sandy bays’ (Burra, 1937, quoted in Jane Stevenson, Edward Burra: Twentieth-Century Eye, Pimlico, 2008, p.304).  After the war his sister Anne encouraged him to return to the country which had so piqued his interest and curiosity, and in 1947 they set out together to explore all Ireland had to offer. The trip initially was a bit of a disaster, Burra forgetting his passport and consequently missing the boat, but once the pair eventually reached Galway Burra was not disappointed, finding there was certainly much in the city for him to observe and keep him highly entertained. He had ample chances to partake in one of the activities he loved most, sitting in pubs sipping a drink and scrutinizing the cultural underbelly. As he reiterated to his close friend Billy Chappell: ‘I don’t pretend Galways gay but it has its moments I find & is really very romantic- some of the characters dearie!...Of course if you want to drink yourself into the grave at the double & who doesn’t you just must come here.  its an alcoholics "must" for I’ve never seen so much Powers & Jamieson’s [sic] whiskey together in one place & you can swill non stop …I find plenty to occupy myself in monster study and staring at huge pots of jam bars of Dutch & Danish chocolate etc and really lovely Aran tweed in large bales’ (Burra, 1947, William Chappell (ed.), Well, dearie!: The Letters of Edward Burra, London, 1985, p.130-1).

Burra returned to Ireland again in 1948, visiting Dublin, Sligo and Bantry Bay, and came to love much about the country, from the beautiful landscape, to the light-hearted friendliness of the people he met in the pubs, the characters encountered in the communities he visited, and the gently crumbling 18th Century architecture he witnessed in the cities and abandoned countryside estates. He found in Ireland elements of all which so inspired him in his work - streets full of life, busy and bustling with personalities and activity, communities laced with hidden stories and intrigue, and also a sense of the slightly downtrodden, nothing scrubbed, pristine and new, rather everywhere undercurrents of unease and a subtle sense of decay. 

In Irish Street Scene these elements which so captured Burra’s vivid imagination are on full display. The scene is framed by Georgian brick facades, some well maintained, others visibly deteriorating; the regularly spaced windows pulling us into the distance where a packed double decker bus rumbles by on the busy high street. The road itself is awash with the commotion of neighbours partaking in life on their doorsteps, from the group of men whose heads snap up to watch a pretty girl sashaying by, to the cloaked Irish mother out shopping with her baby, to children scampering about on the sidewalk. Burra certainly indulges in plenty of so called ‘monster’ studies and the viewer is here placed in a rather uncomfortable position, two intimidating faces leer at us from the foreground, so close they infringe on our physical space. Both individuals are vaguely menacing, one with a furrowed brow and red rimmed eyes that glare out from beneath the shadow of a tattered hat, the other with eyes all whites, lips pulled in a sinister grin over teeth as gap ridden and eroded as the brick wall on the street behind.  Other elements contribute to the general sense of disquiet, neighbours leer out from murky windows, a woman’s darkened profile glides eerily between the disintegrating walls, a red devil like child appears on a stoop as if from a dystopian Bosch painting. These elements contribute to the underlying sense of a narrative – Burra here mixing darkness with the comic to produce an image riddled with powerful and captivating characters.