Sketchbook by James Boswell
TGA 8224 Sketchbook by James Boswell, 1941/42, (1906-1971), Tate Archive.

To represent the Archive’s acquisitions from 1982, I have chosen this drawing, taken from a series of sketchbooks kept by the painter and illustrator James Boswell. Tate Archive holds sketchbooks by many different artists, and I find them to be among the most interesting items in the collection. A sketchbook can give you a glimpse of how artists worked and tried out new ideas, as well as recording their more personal concerns. This sketchbook is one of a series that Boswell kept during the Second World War, and his drawings give an intimate view of one soldier’s reaction to life in the army. Although not an official war artist, Boswell sketched throughout his military training in Scotland and his active service in Iraq. Many of his drawings depict the routines and boredom of army life, examples of the careful observation familiar from Boswell’s pre-war drawings of London. Others, including this drawing, are more satirical or surreal. Army officers often appear as bulls, here shown floating on a cake of the ubiquitous Blanco cleaner, while ordinary soldiers are treated more sympathetically. The War Artists Advisory Committee bought some of Boswell’s work, but did not formally appoint him. Several of those who did become official war artists are represented in Tate Archive, including Paul NashJohn Piper, and Graham Sutherland. Kenneth Clark’s papers contain much material from the War Artists Advisory Committee itself, including letters from the artists involved, such as Edward Ardizzone or Eric Ravilious, who was killed while on an air sea rescue flight in Iceland. The Imperial War Museum continues to commission war artists today.  How do you think the way artists respond to conflicts has changed? TGA 8224

Written by John Langdon