James Boswell

The Station


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
James Boswell 1906–1971
Lithograph on paper
Image: 195 × 186 mm
Presented by Ruth Boswell, the artist's widow 2000


This small illustration portrays a scene at a railway station at 8.32 in the morning. The people on the platform are all reading newspapers that have been purchased from the newsstand; copies of The Times, Daily Telegraph and Mirror are just visible. The gentleman on the left foreground holds a copy of the left-wing journal, Daily Worker, under his arm, while the woman standing opposite, wearing a knee-length skirt and hat, reads the Daily Mirror. They are all oblivious to the train pulling in to the opposite platform. The Station is part of a series of lithographs Boswell made in 1939 which reveals his fascination with London life, and his ability to observe objectively 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 of print-making to capture contemporary London life. Other scenes in the series include a cinema (Tate P11669), a theatre (Tate P11665) and the oratory in Hyde Park.

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 became co-founder of 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 (today known as the Morning Star). The latter, which Boswell includes in this print, was launched in 1930, the year that 2,500 unemployed men and women participated in a hunger march bearing a petition to present to Parliament signed by a million people. Although this print is far removed from the satirical caricatures he produced for these periodicals, for example His Majesty’s Servants (Tate P11663), The Station highlights Boswell’s sympathy with the plight of the unemployed and captures what Feaver describes as ‘the London of Graham Greene’s seedy, conscience-stricken agents, of Patrick Hamilton’s hungover failures in life, of Orwell’s down and out literary agents’ (Feaver, p.6).

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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