Seventy five drawings and sketchbooks by James Boswell

Scope and Content

These drawings and sketchbooks illustrate many of Boswell's interests and activities. The earliest books contain designs for some of his lithographs and there is a particularly fine series of war sketchbooks covering the period Boswell was in Scotland (1941-1942) and Iraq and Malta (1942-1944) serving with the Royal Army Medical Corp. His political affiliation shows clearly in many of the wartime drawings where the officers are frequently drawn with bulls' heads and the common soldiers are more sympathetically portrayed. The Sussex coast features prominantly in the drawings as do scenes of London life, especially street markets. His interest in Punch and Judy and the theatre is also apparent and many of the postwar sketchbooks form a record of his travels in Bucharest (1953), Paris (1953), Chartres (1956), Dieppe (1958) and Marseille (1959). There are moving studies of patients in a mental hospital and a large quantity of drawings of cats.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Boswell was born in New Zealand in 1906 and studied at the Elam School of Art in 1924 before moving to London where he was a student at the Royal College of Art from 1925 to 1929. He began exhibiting in London Galleries and with the London Group in 1927 and continued to do so until 1932 when he gave up painting. From 1932 when he joined the Communist Party he concentrated on graphic work, producing lithographs with James Fitton between 1933 and 1939. He was a founder member of the Artists' International Association and became Art Editor of 'Left Review'. From 1936-1941 and again from 1945-1947 he was Art Director for the Shell Petroleum Company and served in the Royal Army Medical Corp during the war years. He began to paint again after the war and started to exhibit his work again but also continued with his literary activities as Art Editor of 'Lilliput', 1947-1950 and Editor of the house journal of J Sainsbury Ltd. Boswell exhibited at the Royal Academy 1945-1960 and with the London Group and the Paris Salon. During the 1950's his work was influenced by Abstract Expressionism. Boswell died in 1971.


Some of these sketchbooks were loaned for exhibition ( James Boswell: Artist against Fascism, Manchester City Art Gallery, 12 July - 17 August 1986) before they were catalogued. In order to make that loan possible the sketchbooks were numbered and a rough chronological list was drawn up with undated sketchbooks at the end of the list. The numbers allocated at that time have been retained as some of them were quoted in the exhibition catalogue and it would have caused confusion to change them. It has been possible to suggest dates for some of the undated books but as the original sequential numbers have been retained the books are not in a consistent chronological sequence

Access Information

Open. Access to all registered researchers.

Related Material

See also TGA 7913 a collection of personal correspondence, letters about paintings and other works and printed items containing written contributions or drawings by James Boswell.