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James Edward Buchanan Boswell attended Elam School of Art before leaving Aotearoa for London in 1925 to study at the Royal College of Art. He disliked the stuffy environment of the RCA and was twice expelled. Fellow New Zealander Frederick Porter became a mentor in modern art.

Alarmed by the poverty he saw in London, Boswell became involved in leftist politics. In 1932, he stopped painting and moved into graphic art, believing that it could be used to further political causes. With a group of like-minded artists, he launched the Artists International Association (AIA) in a bid to help the poor and oppose fascism. He created illustrations, included in publications like the Left Review, designed leaflets, and painted banners. With James Fitton and James Holland, he is credited with reviving ‘the tradition of social satire in English illustration’.

During the Second World War, Boswell was sent to Iraq, where he produced a number of satirical anti-war drawings now in Tate Britain. Throughout his life, he struggled to sustain his career as an artist. In 1947, he wrote The Artist’s Dilemma, exploring the problems associated with commercial work. For a time, he edited the in-house magazine of the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s. He produced promotional materials for the Labour Party, helping them win the general election in 1964. Towards the end of his life, he worked steadily on his art. He died young, aged not quite 65. With the exception of a brief visit in 1948, he never returned to the country of his birth.

Aotearoa New Zealand; United Kingdom;
Date of birth
09 June 1906
Place of birth
Kawatiri Westport, Aotearoa,
Date of death
15 April 1971
Place of death
London, England, United Kingdom,