21 January - 22 March 2015
When Mark Boxer died in 1988 at the early age of 57, the world of publishing felt bereft. As an art director, editor, writer and cartoonist, his intelligence, irreverence and sparkle had charmed colleagues and readers alike. An unashamed ‘professional hedonist’ who aspired to be a ‘red eminence’ (grey being rather too drab), he recorded the world of the upper-middle and upper classes and the fashionable metropolitan elite. This exhibition includes over 100 of his caricatures, pocket and strip cartoons from The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The London Review of Books and The Observer.
Boxer was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire in 1931. At King’s College, Cambridge he gained his first experience as a cartoonist and editor working on Granta. His reputation as a non- conformist was established in the spring of 1953 when he was sent down for publishing a blasphemous poem. His supporters organised a mock funeral for him and his departure from Cambridge in a hearse followed by a thousand ‘mourners’ was reported in The Times.
After leaving Cambridge he wrote and drew for the Sunday Express, Lilliput, Punch, and Ambassador before being hired as art editor for the Queen magazine in 1957. As editor of the newly established Sunday Times Magazine (1962?5), he helped shake up the rather formal world of post-war British magazine publishing, using innovative layouts and hiring talented photographers and artists such as Eve Arnold, Snowdon, Don McCullin, David Hockney and Peter Blake. As the Sunday Times editor Sir Denis Hamilton recognised, Boxer had ‘the necessary iconoclastic attitude’ to create something new.
In 1967 he was invited to create a cartoon strip for The Listener with writer Peter Preston. ‘Life and Times in NW1’ introduced Simon and Joanna String-Along, a trendy media couple ‘who have recently set up home north of the Park’. The String-Alongs also appeared in the pocket cartoons he drew for The Times from 1969. An admirer of Osbert Lancaster’s cartoons, he was greatly amused when someone tried to put him down by commenting on the continuing brilliance of Lancaster’s cartoons, citing, as an example, one of Boxer’s own cartoons. Many of his pockets were collaborations, with George Melly often providing the captions and Boxer finding ‘the perfect situation, or ideal person to say it’. Their partnership continued after he moved to The Guardian (1983?6) and finally the Daily Telegraph (1986?8).
But Marc is best remembered for his caricatures. From 1970?8 his spare but incisive portraits illustrated profiles in the New Statesman. They would also appear in the London Review of Books, the Spectator and the Observer. The exhibition includes over 80 caricatures of the royal family and figures from the arts, literature, show business and politics, including Prince Charles and the Queen, Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser, Seamus Heaney, Tony Benn, Clive James, Philip Roth, Barry Humphries and David Frost. The self-taught Boxer never claimed to be a great draughtsman: ‘I don’t draw particularly well, but I have an observant eye.’ Unlike many caricaturists, he nearly always worked from life, insisting that he had to ‘see people in their natural habitat and off their guard’. To this end, he would pursue his quarry to their offices, sketch them in restaurants, or take their measure at parties. As editor of Tatler (1983?7) he would insist that people’s names and titles were exactly right, while crafting a wounding caricature of the same individual.
A lifelong Labour voter who mixed in high society and ‘a professional posing as a dilettante’, Boxer remained an ‘elegantly packaged mass of irreconcilable contradictions and uncomfortable antagonisms’ (Jonathan Meades). He believed social cartoonists such as Pont, Bateman and Heath Robinson are more enduring than political cartoonists as their work more effectively captures the atmosphere of a period. ‘Our pleasure in cartoons,’ he wrote, ‘is recognising the truth they uncover’, something his caricatures and cartoons still do today.