James Boswell

Punch and Judy


Not on display

James Boswell 1906–1971
Ink and gouache on paper
Support: 170 × 277 mm
Presented by Ruth Boswell, the artist's widow 1982

Catalogue entry

T03462 PUNCH AND JUDY c.1945

Inks and gouache on paper 6 3/4 × 10 3/4 (170 × 277)
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, on a letter from Ruth Boswell dated 30 April 1986, and on conversations with Sally Shuel and Ruth Boswell on 19 June 1986 and 26 June 1986 respectively.

‘Punch and Judy’ relates to the series of drawings which Boswell began to make on this theme from around 1936. Betty Boswell remembers that the first works of this type were executed at their home in Haverstock Hill, Belsize Park, London, which they left between 1936–7, and most of the Punch and Judy drawings were completed before the war. There are also a number of small drawings of ‘Punch and Judy’ and related sketches in which a Punch-type character figures, in a sketchbook 1939–40 (Tate Gallery Archive, 8224.11, pp.37, 38, 39, 64) as well as six loose ‘Punch and Judy’ illustrations on small scraps of paper, including the reverse side of a letter which has been torn in two halves and is dated 1944. It was Boswell's custom to carry around and draw on small fragments of paper in this way and he referred to these as his ‘thumbnails’.

His daughter, Sally, has noted that the Tate's ‘Punch and Judy’ is smaller in format than those made during the thirties and much less ‘coarse’ in content. The earlier drawings are also more violent. In addition, she has stated her opinion that some areas of the drawing, notably the treatment of the sky, are similar to a style which Boswell developed after the thirties. For this reason, she believes that the work is a later example of its type or else it includes additions which Boswell made subsequently. Comparison of the decoration on the curtain or stage-surround, which appears in some of the ‘Punch and Judy’ works, may assist in dating this work. The motif used in the stage-surround of a ‘Punch and Judy’ related drawing in a sketchbook (Tate Gallery Archive, 8224.11, p.39) is characterised by ‘S’ shapes and contrasts sharply with the overlapping squares and rectangles which distinguish the decorative pattern used in T03462. The sketchbook drawing must have been made between 1939–41 because the book also includes pencil sketches which Boswell has annotated as having been made on the set of the film ‘Thunder Rock’. This was released in 1942 and Betty Boswell recalls that Herbert Marshall, a close friend of the artist, arranged for him to visit the set during shooting in 1940. On the other hand, the curtain decoration of T03462 bears a distinct resemblance to that used in a ‘Punch and Judy’ drawing contained in another, later sketchbook (Tate Gallery Archive, 8224.20). There is firm evidence for the date of this work also, in that the sketchbook also contains three studies for ‘Café, Kentish Town’, T03463, which is in turn related to work which Boswell was producing for a poster for the film ‘It Always Rains On Sundays’ during 1947. It seems likely, therefore, that T03462 was produced after 1945 or contains additions which were made around this time.

Neither Boswell's widow nor his daughter remembers him expressing any particular interest in ‘Punch and Judy’ shows and Sally recalls that, even when in 1946–7 there was a regular ‘Punch and Judy’ stand close to their address at 28 Parliament Hill, Hampstead, Boswell was never sufficiently interested to accompany her to watch. Nevertheless, Betty believes that Boswell was attracted to the violence involved in ‘Punch and Judy’ and that he found in its characters and action a means of expressing and having fun with his interest in the erotic. Referring to Boswell's general interests, Betty Boswell has stated that ‘as a colonial [Boswell was born in New Zealand], Jim found all sorts of traditional things fascinating’ and, while his interest in ‘Punch and Judy’ is a part of this, Boswell also enjoyed circuses (Ruth Boswell has a number of drawings of clowns) and events such as the Hampstead Fair. More specifically, Boswell was a great admirer of the Commedia dell'Arte. Some of the so-called ‘Punch and Judy’ drawings, for example in the sketchbook (Tate Gallery Archive, 8224.11, p.39), although including ‘Punch’ characters, are more reminiscent of the Commedia dell'Arte, which is a related, but quite different, theatrical genre.

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

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