James Boswell and the Artists International Association

James Boswell, Le Sphinx

From British daily The Morning Star:

Art on the offensive

(Monday 15 January 2007)

IN PROFILE: James Boswell


JOHN GREEN looks into the life of James Boswell and the Artists International Association that he cofounded.

The recent publication of William Feaver’s biography of James Boswell is not only a belated commemoration of a significant and progressive 20th-century artist.

Unofficial War Artist is also a reminder of the short but shining role played by the Artists International Association, of which Boswell was a founding member.

He, alongside his fellow communist artists James Holland and James Fitton, were known in left circles as the three Jameses.

The book is lavishly illustrated with pages from Boswell’s sketch books – evocative drawings of pre-war Britain, of his time as a private in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Scotland and Iraq [see also here] and of wartime London, as well as a number of his incisive cartoons.

Boswell and other like-minded artists founded the Artists International Association in 1933.

It was born out of the social and political conflicts of the 1930s and in response to the rise of fascism. At its height, it brought together many of the leading artists of the time.

Among its illustrious members and contributors were people such as Henry Moore [see also here], Peter de Francia, Cliff Rowe, John Piper, Betty Rea, Laura Knight, Paul Hogarth and the art critic Anthony Blunt, who later became Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures.

It worked in confraternity with the Marxist theoretical journal Left Review and collaborated with Writers International, which numbered many leading intellectuals of the time among its supporters – poets such as WH Auden, Randall Swingler, Stephen Spender and prose writers such as George Orwell, Virginia Woolf and Edward Upward [see also here].

Although, contrary to myth, communists made up only a small core of the AI, they did play a very influential role.

A new exhibition of artist Clifford Rowe’s work reveals an enaging socialist world view, says CHRISTINE LINDEY: here.

3 thoughts on “James Boswell and the Artists International Association

  1. Kitty, I think you just missed my first attempt to post on poetry. I heard Michael McClure (an original Beat poet) read on Friday. I finally decided to write a little about poetry and the Beats. I was thinking of all the poetry stuff that you have written. Someday I’d like to write something about the American Artists and writers who thought they were Communists, but didn’t understand Marxism very well. In particular, Nathaniel West. West believed that “Miss Lonely Hearts” and “The Day of The Locust” were socialist realist novels. They’re both great books, but they have nothing to do with Socialist Realism. Then there was Emile Zola, who thought that he was writing biological determinist novels about the importance of proper diet….


  2. Hi Jon, yes, I have seen it. Interesting, though unfortunately there cannot be a link to that post now due to tech problems.

    I have a post on Emile Zola; here.

    What socialist realism really is is a complex issue. In painting; in literature; both? in the Soviet Union, or in other countries? I’d say that the majority of communist visual artists and writers in Western countries were not “socialist realist” in the official Soviet style of then.


  3. Pingback: The Spanish civil war and British artists | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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