Dancing couples play a prominent role in this vibrant image of a crowded venue - the Izzy Orts bar in Boston, USA. Yet the feeling of pleasure and enjoyment conveyed by the dancers jars with the blank-eyed stare of the sailor in the foreground. Isolated and detached, this figure adds an unsettling note to the lively scene, inviting comparison with the serious theme explored in Poussin's much earlier drawing.
The English painter Edward Burra frequented various dockside bars and dance halls while visiting Boston in 1937, attracted by their shady atmosphere and dubious clientele. His active interest in such places, and the insights they gave him into the human condition, are both evident in this enigmatic watercolour.
This painting shows Izzy Orts, a popular bar and dance-hall once located at the docks in Boston, but now demolished. Burra was a frequent visitor to the bar, no doubt attracted by the lively mix of clientele. Many of his works depict life in the seedier areas of cities. Burra visited America several times and this picture is believed to have been painted during his second visit in 1937. The vibrant scene contains a number of strange characters, such as the disquieting blank-eyed sailor who faces the viewer. The sailor in the foreground on the left-hand side is a self-portrait of the artist. The work is painted in watercolour, Burra's favourite medium.
English artist Edward Burra lived all his life in the Sussex seaside town of Rye, but travelled extensively. He studied at Chelsea Polytechnic and at the Royal College of Art, London. Burra's preferred medium was watercolour, although he did make some collages and occasional designs for the theatre. He liked to live life on the margins of society, revolting against his middle-class background. He is particularly well known for a series of Harlem street scenes produced from 1933 to 1934. Burra's imagery became increasingly fantastical towards the mid-1930s, and he exhibited with the English Surrealists.