Turning away from the brutal and often grotesque figurative scenes that had occupied much of his early output, by the 1950s Burra took a new direction in his approach, exploring the theatricality of the still life genre, in particular focusing on floral scenes. These richly coloured compositions, exploring the strangeness of the everyday that so captivated the artist, proved financially viable, selling consistently well through his London dealers. They were bright, bountiful and full of the hope that so abounded in London in the early 1950s. They suited an audience that had had its fill of the horrors and brutal atrocities that had only really emerged following the liberation of occupied Europe, yet allowed Burra a vehicle through which he could explore further the wild and disturbing narratives that had occupied him previously. These were not merely decorative still lifes, as David Sylvester noted in his 1957 review of Burra’s recent exhibition at Alex. Reid & Lefevre. Sylvester describes ‘the drama in the flowerpieces … perhaps the most pungent thing Burra has ever given us … more vividly, more intensely, striking and disturbing, precisely because they need nothing other than their spikey shapes and clashing colours to make them so’ (New Statesman, 25th May 1957, quoted in Andrew Causey, Edward Burra: The Complete Catalogue, Phaidon, Oxford, 1985, p.73).
In contrast to much of his other work, Burra's still lifes were painted from life, and Laurels is depicted in great detail. There is no doubting the influence of seventeenth-century Dutch still life painting when looking at the close attention to detail and focus on surface texture as well as the use of a dark monotone background. The lush foliage of the leaves burst forth with a life and energy from the constraints of the simple highly polished vase, and imbues these apparently disparate objects with a quality of surrealism every bit as unsettling as Burra's more fanciful imagery.