Illustration © The Estate of John David Roberts. Reproduced with the permission of the William Roberts Society. Catalogue information based on the catalogue raisonné by David Cleall. For this and full details of the exhibitions cited, see the links below. Any auction prices quoted may not include all fees and taxes, such as VAT and Artist's Resale Right charges.


Boxers, 1914
Pencil, pen and ink, and collage, 60.5 cm x 53.5 cm

The collage element of this work consists of a printed notice reading 'KID LEWIS v. JIM BERRY AT THE PREMIERLAND'. In Some Early Abstract and Cubist Work (1957), Roberts wrote, 'I became an abstract painter through the influence of the French Cubists . . . An additional stimulant to my interest in abstract art was the example of David Bomberg a friend and fellow pupil at the Slade School who had begun to produce some fine cubist compositions.' 'Kid' Lewis (né Gershon Mendeloff, aka the Aldgate Sphinx) was the British and European featherweight champion in March 1914 and was known to Bomberg through Bomberg's brother Mo, himself a boxer. Roberts was particularly close friends with Bomberg – a fellow East Ender – in 1914, and the fight between Lewis and Berry, taking place in the Whitechapel venue Premierland, would have been a big attraction for both artists. However, in '"BLAST SPORT"?: Vorticism, Sport, and William Roberts's Boxers ', Bernard Vere notes that he has been unable to find any mention of a fight between Lewis and Jim Berry in the boxing records, although these records are known to be incomplete.
For more information on this picture, click here.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by St John Hutchinson c.1915 > ? (by descent) > Sotheby's 10 May 2012 (£229,250)
EXHIBITION HISTORY: New English Art Club 1914 ('The Futurist composition of Mr. Roberts . . . is not meant to be humanly possible, but it is meant to arouse our human interest. It contains some eight or ten very scrappy, angular gesticulatory figures, all quite impossible in their anatomy – and for this reason, that all these figures represent the movements of a single pair of fighters. The artists has set out to represent the emotion or sensation of combative movement. Had he tried to do so by flinging together upon the canvas eight or ten well-articulated human forms he would only have given us a crowd of that number of combatants . . . That was not his aim. His aim was, I take it, to give us visually the emotion and excitement produced by a single pair of boxers. To some extent he has done so. Anyway, that is the reason why he has drawn these figures as he has drawn them, and, whether we like the attempt or not, we get on these lines some understanding of his work and so some understanding of the work of other Futurists' – Laurence Housman, 'The New English Art Club', Manchester Guardian, 23 May 1914), London Group 1915. Cf. Boxers 1919, Interval before Round Ten 1919 –20, Novices c.1921, Outclassed 1925, The Boxing Match c.1925–7

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