James Boswell

Café, Kentish Town


Not on display

James Boswell 1906–1971
Ink and gouache on paper
Support: 396 × 530 mm
Presented by Ruth Boswell, the artist's widow 1982

Catalogue entry


Inks and gouache on paper 15 1/8 × 20 3/4 (396 × 530)
Not inscribed
Presented by Ruth Boswell 1982

The following entry is based on a letter received from Sally Shuel on 19 June 1986, containing answers to the compiler's questions put to Betty Boswell on his behalf, and on conversations with Sally Shuel and Betty Boswell on 19 June 1986 and 26 June 1986 respectively.

This work was made in connection with the poster which Boswell produced for the film ‘It Always Rains on Sundays’ (repr.in col., Projecting Britain, BFI, 1982, p.19), released in 1947. The Tate's drawing was executed either in 1947 or shortly before. It was the first of a series of commissions from Ealing Studios which included posters for ‘The Blue Lamp’, 1950, ‘Pool of London’, 1951, and ‘The Gentle Gunman’, 1952 (repr. in col., Projecting Britain, pp.20–2). Whether S. John Woods, who was in charge of the Ealing Studios advertising department 1943–59, approached Boswell as a result of drawings of Camden Town street scenes which Boswell was then making, or whether they sprang from an interest which was initiated by the commission, is not known. Whatever the reason, Boswell produced many similar drawings.

The work was titled ‘Café, Kentish Town’ only after Boswell's death and, although it is not drawn from life and is not of any actual place in particular, it is composed of impressions of neighbouring Camden Town which were assembled to form the work. From 1947 to its demise in 1959 Boswell was art director of the pocket-sized satirical magazine Lilliput, which began publication in 1937. Four smaller drawings, entitled ‘Little Gold Mine’, ‘Private Enterprise’, ‘Saturday Night’ and ‘Spring Fever’ which are connected with ‘Café, Kentish Town’ and which resemble particular areas and characters within the Tate's work, were reproduced in Lilliput, xx, April 1947, pp.321–4, with the general title ‘Portrait of a Neighbourhood’. The accompanying commentary for the pictures was by Eric Hobsbawm and stated: ‘Camden Town, [is] the subject of the four pictures James Boswell has painted for Lilliput ...’ According to the artist's daughter, Boswell loved Camden Town and ‘was fascinated by the tarts’ who frequented its streets. She has described how Boswell would collate impressions, imaginary elements and details with private significance, in order to produce street scenes of this type. With regard to the latter, a favourite device, for instance, was to incorporate friends' names into the signs which appear over the shop fronts depicted in some scenes (see Sketchbooks: 1938–39 Vol.1 [Street scenes and caricatures], 1938–9 Vol.2 [Street scenes and caricatures], 1939 [Essays, London], Tate Gallery Archive, 8224.8, 8224.9, 8224.10). The girl in the foreground of the drawing was drawn from imagination and is typical of the stereotype which Boswell evolved and drew repeatedly. She closely resembles the tallest of the two girls in the poster for ‘It Always Rains on Sundays’ and the image is based on the girls Boswell had seen around the Camden Town area. The blond hairstyle worn high on the head is an example of the prevailing fashion at the time when the drawing was made but also manifests Boswell's own fascination with this particular ‘look’. There are three studies for T03463 which show Boswell developing the composition and aspects of detail, in the sketchbook 1945–9 (Tate Gallery Archive, 8824.20).

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986


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