Papers of Edward Burra

Scope and Content

Edward Burra was an English painter, illustrator and stage designer. This collection includes a wide variety of material reflecting Burra's eclectic interests. There is a small amount of correspondence; artwork including sketchbooks and mounted pages from sketchbooks; and proof illustrations for Humbert Woolfe's 'ABC of Theatre'. There are photographs of some of Burra's stage designs; material sent to Burra by Paul Nash; and a wide range of presscuttings, some relating to Burra, others collected out of interest. The two card indexes of books were made at the time of the inventory of his possessions at his home, soon after his death. Many of the books and other printed items are stored in the Tate Library. There is also a collection of Burra's 78s, jazz, blues, swing, Latin American and Spanish records. There is a further collection of Burra's papers, notebooks, diaries, artworks, photographs, exhibition catalogues, sound recordings and postcards at TGA 939.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Burra was born in 1905 and was privately educated. He took to art in his teenage years after the beginning of the ill health which was to last the rest of his life, but never impeded him. He studied at Chelsea Polytechnic in 1921-3, and at the Royal College of Art in 1923-5. During this time he met the core group of friends whom he kept for the rest of his life, including William 'Billy' Chappell, Paul Nash, Barbara Key-Seymer, John Banting, Frederick Ashton, Beatrice Dawson, Gerald Corcoran and Conrad Aiken.
After college he lived much of the rest of his life at his parent's house near Rye, Sussex. Burra travelled widely and as often as possible. He visited France, Spain, America and Mexico, and spent much of his time in low bars, nightclubs, dance-halls and cinemas from which he drew inspiration. His first solo show was at the Leicester Galleries in 1929. He exhibited with 'Art Now' and 'Unit One' at the Mayor Gallery in 1933 and 1934, and in the International Surrealist Exhibition of 1936. Burra also produced illustrations and designed sets and costumes for six ballets, an opera and a musical comedy.
From 1952 he exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery focusing on still-life and landscape subjects. In 1958 the Hayward Gallery held a retrospective of his work. Burra avoided artistic groups and institutions, only involving himself with 'Unit One' and refusing an Associate Royal Academician in 1963. He died in 1976.


The material has been arranged as follows:, TGA 771/1 Correspondence, TGA 771/2 Artwork and sketchbooks, TGA 771/3 Photographs, TGA 771/4 Printed ephemera, TGA 771/5 Material relating to Paul Nash, TGA 771/6 Miscellaneous papers, TGA 771/7 Presscuttings, TGA 771/8 Record collection.

Access Information

Open. Access to all Registered users.

Other Finding Aids

Paper list available.

Related Material

Supplementary material (TGA 939), letters from Edward Burra may be found in the papers of John Banting (TGA 779), Paul Nash (TGA 7050, TGA 7127), Sir John Rothenstein (TGA 8726), and in a collection of letters to Seymour Lawrence (TGA 8913). A single letter to Edward Burra from his friend Chloe (`Clover') de Pertinez, nee Pritchard (1905-86) (TGA 8318/19) was transferred to the Archive by the Tate Gallery Library in 1983. Letters both to and from Edward Burra are included in a collection of correspondence and photographs of his friend Barbara Ker-Seymer (1905-93) (TGA 974). A substantial collection of books and periodicals belonging to Edward Burra (some listed in the card index now TGA 771/6/3-5) is held in the Tate Gallery Library. A number of other books included in TGA 939 have also been transferred to the Library. The Archive holds a set of wood blocks by Edward Burra presented by Barrie Sturt-Penrose (TGA 7223). Works by Edward Burra are included in several exhibition catalogues in the records of the Artists International Association (TGA 7043) and the London Group (TGA 7713).

Personal Names

Corporate Names