In October 2013, Marc Kristal popped into Christie’s to get out of the rain and saw an exhibition called ‘When Britain Went Pop: British Pop Art – The Early Years’. His attention was caught by two paintings, one by David Hockney, with whose work he was familiar, and the other, a large mixed-media canvas from 1964 entitled It’s a Man’s World I, by an artist wholly new to him, Pauline Boty. This collage-type painting, featuring portraits of famous men from Elvis Presley to Einstein and Lenin, seemed ‘at once light-hearted and pitiless’. He also, surprisingly, judged it to be a self-portrait. His interest in the artist was piqued.
Boty graduated from Wimbledon School of Art in 1958, went on to the Royal College of Art (RCA) and was one of the few women in the British Pop Art movement of the 1960s. She can be seen alongside Peter Blake and others in Ken Russell’s 1962 BBC documentary Pop Goes the Easel. She was fresh, bold, beautiful, a feminist, full of life and cheek. ‘All over the country,’ she wrote, ‘young girls are sprouting, shouting and shaking, and if they terrify you, they mean to and they are beginning to impress the world.’ Alas Boty didn’t have long to terrify or impress. Diagnosed with leukaemia in early pregnancy, she decided to delay treatment so that her baby would survive. She died at twenty-eight in 1966. Her work disappeared. In the early 1990s, when the Barbican was planning the exhibition ‘The Sixties Art Scene in London’, Boty’s daughter took the curator, David Alan Mellor, to Kent, where the family had stored her canvases. Liking what he saw, he included some in the exhibition and in a small way a revival began.
Kristal’s book is a full-scale celebration of Boty’s life that puts her into the history of the movement. There are some surprises. It turns out that Boty began by studying stained glass, which at Wimbledon School of Art was apparently the hip thing to do, as was ‘learning