At long last a decent image of SG Boxsius' evocative colour woodcut called Spring has turned up and it proves to be one of his most unusual. Around eighteen months ago, one or two of us were working on the assumption that Boxsius made a series of prints using the four seasons as a theme. I now do not believe he ever made a print called Summer but having been wrong once, I am not now going in for any further conjecture untill I get to the bottom of this.
I also begin to think he chose to be known as SG Boxsius as an ironic echo of the cricketer, WG Grace. In many of his prints there is a formal playfulness and wit that belies the Londoner's view of the pleasantness of the countryside. The figures of the two men and three horses introduce the kind of drama that is often missing in his work and for a change we have the vigour and use of colour I would associate with Sybil Andrews. (He would have been exhibiting alongside Andrews around the time this print was published - apparently in 1932, but the date isn't all that clear).
I am sure this tapestry print looks even better when you have it front of you. The subtle play-off of the gentle light of spring and the struggling horses, the looming woods and cloudscape and the bare ploughland are light years from the strident tone prevalent amongst so many. What he was doing wasn't easy; as for the horses, it was difficult. I am not saying he is Paul Nash, who depicted exactly the same kinds of beech woods in the Chilterns at exactly the same time, but Boxsius has an intimacy that Nash rarely has. We forget how many of these teacher-artists like Boxsius were perforce aware of the past. There is a telling photograph of him taken in the cast-room at Bolt Court, surrounded by young London boys who themselves are surrounded by plaster copies of classical statuary, including a small version of the very large Farnese Hercules. They all of them learned to draw by learning how to imitate. This is why Giles was so insistent on self-sufficiency. It was an old dilemma, but one which Boxsius was smart enough to make the best of.
What interests him, he returns to. Although the plough itself is absent from Spring, it takes centre-stage in a rather unsatisfactory print (only a detail, above), which I think must be one of his earliest. Boxsius has a basic interest in technique and tools. You can see this in the way he has bothered to describe the old wheel-plough. The slopes meet behind the ploughman as he bends over his equipment, the rhythms Boxsius sets up just as delicate as the colour he uses. There is the sympathy there, too - of one skilled, observant worker for another.