A view of the world
By whatever felicity of planning or happenstance, it is a frequent fact of the Yorkshire landscape that across the wide spaces that separate city from city , town from town, two kinds of road run - lower and higher. Going from one place to another necessitates, therefore, a choice: take the bottom road, or go over the tops.
This provides more than a happy scope for hikers, drivers, cyclists. It has the dimensions and differences of two worlds in one. The choice is not merely between the direct and the meandering, the efficient or the slowly extended: it is an option either for the mundane and busy or for a high, thrilling isolation - the lower route, which never entirely escapes from the suburban, the man-made, the heavy traffic, or the higher route, which can, with little warning, carry you sharply back to a primitive age, take you into unaccountable changes of weather, startle you with sudden steepness and generally suggest that you are a thousand or so miles from civilization.
You know well enough, of course, that Keighley or Settle or Hawes is below, that the twentieth century, rural or industrial, is just beyond the brow of the next rolling drumlin, that you only have to dip, climb, twist a little farther along the road and you will be on the edge of the moor and plunging precipitously downhill into a marketplace chummily thick with people buying fish , homemade lemon curd, boxes of pansies, cushion covers: but, until then, here you are excitingly apart, almost in the sky, away in a land that might as easily pasture brontosauruses as sheep, contain cave men rather than hill farmers.
Edward Burra's watercolour ''Yorkshire Moors'' may have been painted only eight years ago, but it is still captured by the primeval feel of this strange landscape and the lonely roads that reach across it. It is a picture that also represents ''another side'' of his art from the usual sort of imagery and treatment associated with his name. It allows for a strong ''romanticism,'' a sense of the grandeur and solitude of nature, which his typical depictions of the seamy and sordid corners of urban living, nostalgically or surrealistically devised, do not. It is, instead, an intriguing tribute to the English nineteenth-century mastery of watercolour landscape painting - almost a combination of a Turner and a Cotman. It has both the sublimely vapourous expanses of the one and the simple balanced shapes of the other. It is closer to Cotman than Turner in one respect: it leaves out a good deal.
''There is a time lag,'' Burra once stated, ''between my seeing a landscape and my coming to the boil, so to say, but when I go back there, I'm always puzzled by what I've left out.''
His visual memory had always been strong and vividly selective, but on the whole his landscapes are more concerned with broad, dreamlike spaces than with inquisitive detail: they are not, like his low-life city pictures, filled with events. He maintained that, to him, landscape was generally menacing, as though calamity was always round the next corner. His ''Yorkshire Moors'' is a brooding drama of folded hills, of luminous mists, of distant patterns of walling or townscape, skeletal, and almost lost, in the sunken dales; to me, an intense memory is evoked more than some threatening, dangerous presence.
''I don't believe I see atmosphere,'' Burra said in justification of his usually clear definition of forms and precise outline. ''Yorkshire Moors,'' however, is an exploration of ''seen atmosphere'' and the way forms disappear into it and reemerge from it. To this extent, it shows an artist actually discovering a previously unacknowledged aspect of his potential vision. Nevertheless, the painting is still a precise contrast of definition with vagueness, and Burra's linearity is in evidence. It is this linearity which so successfully suggests the ancient rock formation under the moorland.
Perhaps, surprisingly, this painting is not the work of a Yorkshireman. Burra lived in the seaside town of Rye in Sussex. Most of the inspiration for his paintings was gathered when he traveled. He was only a periodic visitor to Yorkshire, and in a way treated it as a foreign country. It would be hard to place on a map his vanishing road over the moors; possibly a Yorkshireman would have wanted to identify a more specific locale. But Burra has epitomized, typified, certain feelings about the moors, expressively seizing their essence.