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An odd tension exists between the barman, the customer and the slicing of the ham in Burra’s painting. The woman eats distractedly, while the man cuts with enjoyment and a sideways glance at her. Violence and sexual tension seem to be at play. Burra was an acute observer of the everyday, often exaggerating it into caricature in order to comment on society. He was familiar with the similarly critical work of Georg Grosz and the heightened atmosphere of Surrealist painting, contributing works to the 1936 London exhibition.

July 2007