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I Never Tell Anybody Anything: The Life and Art of Edward Burra (2011)

Edward Burra (1905-76) was one of the most elusive British artists of the 20th century. Long underrated, his reputation has been suddenly rehabilitated, with the first major retrospective ... See full summary »

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Edward Burra (1905-76) was one of the most elusive British artists of the 20th century. Long underrated, his reputation has been suddenly rehabilitated, with the first major retrospective of his work for 25 years taking place in 2011 and record-breaking prices being paid for his work at auction. In this film, the first serious documentary about Edward Burra made for television, leading art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon tells the remarkable story of his life. It follows Burra from his native town of Rye to the jazz clubs of prohibition-era New York, to the war-torn landscapes of the Spanish Civil War and back to England during the Blitz. It shows how Burra's increasingly disturbing and surreal work deepened and matured as he experienced at first hand some of the most tragic events of the century. Through letters and interviews with those who knew him, it paints an entertaining portrait of a true English eccentric. Written by Andrew Graham-Dixon

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25 October 2011 (UK)  »

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£100,000 (estimated)
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Straightforward Profile of an Enigmatic Figure
6 October 2014 | by (London) – See all my reviews

Edward Burra (1905-71) was one of the most enigmatic of British painters. Notoriously reluctant to talk about his work, he only ever gave one media interview in 1971; and even then, he deflected most of the questions asked.

Born in Rye, Sussex, to a wealthy family, Burra had a debilitating disease - rheumatoid arthritis - from birth, which rendered him unfit for most things. The only way he could express himself was through art. In his early years, he combined extensive foreign travels with periods of rest and recuperation at Rye; many of his early paintings capture the color and joy of foreign cultures - in the United States and Spain especially.

Burra's view of life changed, however, with the onset of the Spanish Civil War, as he witnessed the horrors of armed conflict. His paintings became much darker in tone, combining mythological figures as well as pictorial representation in a vision of pure hellishness, something that continued well into the Second World War. Never a 'war artist' in the governmental sense (i.e. providing positive representations of soldiers in battle), Burra understood how much suffering had been caused to the people on both sides.

Even after the war had ended, Burra's paintings continued to embody his uncertainties, whether religious, moral or political. It was only towards the end of his life that he achieved some kind of peace, as he became directly involved in the subjects he painted rather than simply observing them. His late paintings have a calmness and serenity that seem quite absent from his earlier work.

Andrew Graham-Dixon, one of the most knowledgeable and lucid of television art presenters, offers a lucid biography of an often enigmatic artist, together with a clear explanation of the possible meaning of some of Burra's most notable works. I NEVER TELL ANYBODY ANYTHING serves as a comprehensive and satisfying introduction to his work.


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