James Boswell
The Cinema 1939

Artwork details

James Boswell 1906–1971
The Cinema
Date 1939
Medium Lithograph on paper
Dimensions Image: 200 x 179 mm
Acquisition Presented by Ruth Boswell, the artist's widow 2000
View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms


The Cinema is one of a series of lithographs Boswell made in 1939 of places in London, including a theatre (Tate P11665), a railway station (Tate P11667) and the oratory in Hyde Park. He learned the art of lithography by attending evening classes taught by the artist James Fitton (1899-1982) at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Southampton Row, and his mastery of the technique is evident from this small yet detailed image. In the foreground an usherette shines a torch to help direct a couple of latecomers to their seats in the already crowded auditorium. The image projected on to the screen shows two men, the one on the left contrasting with the gentleman on the right who appears to be wearing a top hat. Cinemas became an especially popular form of entertainment in the 1930s.

Born in New Zealand, Boswell moved to London in 1925 where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1932 he joined the Communist Party and gave up painting for politically motivated graphic work. The following year he co-founded the Artists International Association, along with Paul Hogarth (1917-2001) and James Fitton (1899-1982), and began to contribute sketches to left-wing periodicals, The Left Review and the Daily Worker. Many of these prints were political satires and are an attempt to expose class injustices, for example Empire Builders (Tate P01823). The Cinema, reveals Boswell’s fascination with the life of ordinary people in London, and his ability to create original images of his daily surroundings. Clear comparisons can be made with the graphic work of George Cruickshank (1792-1878) and the French illustrator, Gustave Doré (1832-1883) who, although working a century earlier, equally exploited the effects produced by print-making to capture contemporary London life.

Further reading:
William Feaver, Boswell’s London: Drawings by James Boswell Showing Changing London from the Thirties to the Fifties, London 1978
James Boswell: Extracting the Dream Reality, exhibition catalogue, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, London 1999

Heather Birchall
January 2004

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