Magazine article The Spectator

Everyday Life in the Army

Magazine article The Spectator

Everyday Life in the Army

Article excerpt

JAMES BOSWELL : UNOFFICIAL WAR ARTIST by William Feaver Muswell Press, £25, pp. 136, ISBN 09780954795924 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

James Boswell (1906-71) was a New Zealander who settled in London in 1925, studying to be a painter at the Royal College of Art. In 1932 he gave up painting for illustration and joined the Communist Party. In common with many young people, he wanted to do something practical in a period of deprivation and want. He became a founder member of the Artists International Association, with such other committed left-wingers as Edward Ardizzone, Pearl Binder, Cliff Rowe and Misha Black. He also contributed satirical cartoons to Left Review, somewhat in the style of George Grosz. His other subject was everyday London life, for which he had a perspicacious eye and a deep affection. Occasionally, politics and street life came together in such notable images as 'Hunger Marchers in Hyde Park' (1939).

Boswell had a striking gift of line, an economy of means which was however by no means clear-cut, favouring as it often did a rubbed and smudgy appearance, a bruised look, which eminently suited his depiction of the foibles and fallibilities of the human animal.

Daumier was an inspiration, as well as the 'new objectivity' of Grosz and Otto Dix. Early in 1941 he was called up as a private in the RAMC. His training was in Peebles, Scotland, and then he was shipped to Iraq (1942-3), where not much happened and he served as a radiographer. This beautifully produced paperback of his war drawings (from the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum and the Tate Gallery) divides the work by its three locations: London, Scotland and Iraq. The many illustrations are accompanied by a short but vivid text by William Feaver, which reads as if a novel were waiting to be let loose.

The material certainly promotes anecdote and narrative. …

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