I’ve chosen the papers of Ed Burra to represent the collections we acquired in 1977. Ed Burra (1905-1976) was an English painter, illustrator and stage designer. Three of his works are currently on display at Tate Modern: Keep your head, Coffee Stall and The Snack Bar. Despite life-long ill health, Burra travelled widely and as often as possible. He visited France, Spain, America and Mexico, and spent much of his time in bars, nightclubs, dance-halls and cinemas from which he drew inspiration. Burra is best known for his depictions of the urban underworld and black culture, especially the Harlem scene of the 1930s. This district was widely regarded as the epicentre of the Harlem Renaissnace, a cultural movement in which the American black community rebelled against the racist attitudes of the North American white population. Echoes of this political-cultural development reached Europe - especially Paris and London - through the medium of Jazz, which became the quintessentially modern popular music of the era of the gramophone. By the mid 1920s Burra had become an avid collector of Jazz records and had a great passion for music. The archive I have picked includes Burra’s record collection. The 236 78rpm discs cover jazz, blues, swing, rock and pop, Latin American and Spanish music - including artists as varied as, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley, Vera Lynn, Edith Piaf and Janice Joplin. I’ve chosen these items because I think it’s fascinating to see how the music inspired art, and also because it’s an unusual thing to find in an archive. We do also have all the things you’d normally expect in personal papers - letters to and from his friends (often lavishly illustrated), sketches and sketchbooks, diaries, photographs, exhibition catalogues and press cuttings - but the records say something a bit different about him. Do you think that having these records tells us more about how Burra was influenced by his love of music?
Written by Emily Down