Artwork Description / Detail
James Boswell was a painter and illustrator born in Westport, New Zealand, on the 9th of June 1906. He was the only son of an immigrant Scottish schoolteacher, Edward Blair Buchanan Boswell and Ida Charlotte Boswell (nee Fair). The family moved to Auckland in 1917, where the young James attended Auckland Grammar School. His early interest in sketching & writing found expression in the pages of the Auckland Grammar School Chronicle (1923).
Boswell went on to study at the Elam School of Art in Auckland, but left after a year, instead enrolling as a student at the Royal College of Art (1925 – 1929). He exhibited a series of works with the London Group in 1927, which was described as ‘progressive, a little daring and extremely original’.
The worsening economic depression in the interwar years and the extreme poverty Boswell witnessed had a profound impact on the young artist. In 1932 he made two major decisions, which were to impact the rest of this life: he gave up professional painting in favor of commercial work and he joined the Communist Party.
Boswell became a key figure in the Communist Party’s efforts to enlist left-wing artists. He regularly contributed to the Party’s monthly radical publications Left Review & the Daily Worker. He was a founding member of Artists International Association, formally known as Artists International, and organized very successful exhibitions, including the ‘Artists Against Fascism and War’. The exhibition included work by Henry Moore, Paul Nash & Augustus John and was held in a Georgian mansion in Soho Square, London.
Transitioning towards illustration and commercial art in 1932 pathed the way for Boswell to become the art director of the Asiatic Petroleum Company’s (now Shell) in 1936. His career was briefly interrupted when he was drafted into military service in 1941. Boswell served as a radiologist with the Royal Army Medical Corps and was stationed throughout the Middle-East and Mediterranean war zones. His military duties left him time for drawing and he filled his sketchbooks with scenes of army and hospital life, recording what he saw around him.
Whilst stationed in London in 1944, Boswell held his first one-man show at the Charlotte Street Centre. His exhibition, entitled ‘On Duty in Desert’, featured some of his less controversial works and was very successful, with the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum purchasing works.
Shortly after completing his military service, Boswell broke ties with the Communist Party, choosing to focus on his artistic practice. In 1952 the artist made another radical break in his career be returning to professional painting, which he had given up twenty years earlier. Boswell spent the rest of his career focused on painting. The artists died on the 15th of April 1971 in London.
James Boswell’s works are represented in numerous public and private collections. Of note is the extensive collection of drawings, held by the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. The colleciton was first exhibited in 1949 and agin in 1977.