Selling the Daily Worker outside the Projectile and Engineering Works
shows a man and a woman, probably the artists’ wife (Interview with the artist’s daughter, Rosa Branson, 5 November 2004.), selling copies of the communist newspaper, Daily Worker, outside a munitions factory in Battersea where Branson was then living. The message ‘For Unity’, promoted by both sellers on their aprons, presumably refers to the communist campaign for a united front against fascism. Branson became a member of the Communist Party in 1932 and remained an active member throughout his life. Harry Pollitt (1890-1960), the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain, described him: ‘Nothing was too much for him: selling the Daily Worker at Clapham Junction, house to house canvassing, selling literature, taking up social issues, and getting justice done – all those little things which go to make up the indestructible foundations of the movement’ (British Soldier in India: The Letters of Clive Branson, London 1944, unpaginated). In the centre of the picture is the red glow of the factory’s furnace, from which the workers seem to spew out onto the street. In the upper left, figures peer out from the window. The subject of a munitions factory in the pre-war years resonated widely, particularly within the communist constituency which saw the main victims of a future war as being working class people killed in the defence of capitalism.
Branson studied at the Slade School, but Selling the Daily Worker shows a deliberate rejection of the academic painting which was taught there. Instead he paints in a deliberately naïve manner in a style reminiscent of members of the Ashington Art Group. These artists, who became known as the ‘Pitmen Painters’, were Northumberland miners who, without any artistic training, painted themselves and their everyday surroundings during the 1930s. Branson was particularly interested in these ‘worker artists’ and may have believed their easily understood and figurative manner was more appropriate to the communist ideology that he aimed to promote. This work was painted during the Spanish Civil War (July 1936 - April 1939). The overthrow of the Republican government by Franco's fascist troops in July 1936 and the ensuing civil war mobilised the Left throughout Europe. This painting was made shortly before Branson volunteered for service with the British Batallion of the International Brigade. Soon after his first battle he was captured and spent eight months in a Franco concentration camp before returning to England.
Briony Fer, David Batchelor and Paul Wood, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars, London 1993, reproduced in colour, p.258
Lynda Morris and Robert Radford, AIA: Artists International Association 1933-1953, exhibition catalogue, The Museum of Modern Art, Oxford 1983
The British Soldier In India: The Letters of Clive Branson, London 1944