Tag Archives: John Craxton

Kim Wilkie chooses Two Figures and Setting Sun by John Craxton as favourite painting

‘Two Figures and Setting Sun’ by John Craxton. Copyright of the John Craxton Estate, all rights reserved, DACS 2019.

When asked to choose his favourite painting for Country Life’s ongoing series, My Favourite Painting, landscape architect Kim Wilkie chose Two Figures and Setting Sun by Paddy’s book jacket illustrator and friend, John Craxton.

Says Wilkie, ‘Landscape, for me, is more about light, sound and stories than appearance. You really can hear, smell and taste this painting. The vibrating patterns are mesmerising; they root a fleeting moment in a timeless place. The setting sun pulses, the motion in the waves and figures is slowly rhythmic and the mountains float on the horizon. I have stared at the painting for hours and it draws you in deeper. It drifts into your imagination.’

John McEwen on Two Figures and Setting Sun by John Craxton:

John Craxton first came to prominence in the early 1940s as a neo-Romantic painter in the pastoral tradition of the 19th-century Samuel Palmer. Craxton disliked being labelled, but, to his friend and collector Sir David Atten-borough, he ‘grudgingly admitted’ he would accept ‘Arcadian’ (John Craxton by Ian Collins, 2011).

John Leith Craxton was born into a musical family. His father was a pianist, musicologist and professor at the Royal College of Music and his mother, a descendant of Benjamin West, the second president of the Royal Academy, gave up a career as a violinist to mother her family of five sons (John was the fourth) and one daughter, the future oboist Janet Craxton. John was brought up in St John’s Wood, where his parents kept open house to young and old in an atmosphere of benign bohemian disorder. That spirit prevailed when, in old age, he presided over his parents’ later Hampstead home, the music room of which is still used by professional musicians.

For much of his life, Craxton lived and worked in Greece, latterly in Crete—suitably for an Arcadian, as Arcadia was originally a region of southern Greece. He was the artist counterpart of his friend, the Greek-based travel writer Patrick Leigh-Fermor, whose book jackets he illustrated.

Craxton took 15 years to paint this Arcadian homage to his adopted land, due to much revision, including the loss of a figure. A boy flings an octopus onto the quay: ‘The subject is Greek in its bones but what amuses me is the old romantic English love of mood coming out in me,’ he wrote.

Further articles about John Craxton here.

Sir David Attenborough – A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete

Dorset County Museum’s art exhibition A Poetic Eye: John Craxton on Cranborne Chase and Crete was officially opened by Sir David Attenborough and Hilary Spurling OBE on the 27th March 2015. Many of us were able to see this either at the museum or when it moved to Salisbury.

This video includes an explanation by Sir David Attenborough on why he loves the work of John Craxton. Sir David has been a lifelong fan of Craxton’s work.

John Craxton (1922-2009) was one of the most interesting and individual British artists of the 20th century. His life story, starting with wanderings on Cranborne Chase, was as colourful as his later pictures of the light, life and landscapes of Greece, and illustrations for Paddy’s books..

This exhibition at Dorset County Museum in Dorchester charted Craxton’s journey from Cranborne to Crete, from early paintings of dark and menaced war-time landscapes to joyful scenes painted under bright Cretan skies.

John Julius Norwich – 1929-2018

Barry Cryer and John Julius Norwich at an Oldie lunch in 2017

Very sad news over the weekend to hear of the death of John Julius Norwich, writer, diplomat, broadcaster, father of Artemis Copper (Paddy’s biographer), and friend of Paddy and Joan. Thank you to AJ for sending me this link to his final article for the Oldie magazine. Like John Julius, it was Paddy that led me to my interest in Byzantium, although my Byzantine output is nothing like the wonderful three volume history of Byzantium that John Julius wrote.

First published in The Oldie, 1 June 2018.

By John Julius Norwich.

A new show at the British Museum – about three great lovers of Greece – takes me right back to the 1950s. The English painter Johnny Craxton (1922-2009) was a joy – the only dinner guest we ever had who came on his motorbike and left his leathers in the hall. He always came on his own; we were all intrigued by the idea of his long-term boyfriend, whom we never met. I think Johnny saw Greece as a larger Crete – just as Neville Chamberlain was always said to see Europe as a larger Birmingham. Johnny loved Crete with passion.

The Athenian painter Nikos Ghika (1906-1994) provided me with my first breath of Greece in the summer of 1954, when we went to stay with him in his lovely old house on the island of Hydra.

Also staying there were Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor. Ghika later designed the serpentine pebble mosaic floors at Kardamyli – the Leigh Fermors’ enchanting house in the Mani. It was Paddy that I knew best of the three. Our friendship lasted from the 1950s until his death in 2011 at the age of 96.

In the spring of 1955, when we were living in Yugoslavia – I was working at the British Embassy – a letter arrived from my mother. She had been offered a caique for a fortnight’s sail among the isles of Greece. Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor were coming; could we come, too? At the end of August, we drove down from Belgrade to Athens, and boarded the Eros at Piraeus.

It was my first time in the Aegean, and my best. Paddy lived and breathed his beloved Greece – fluent in its language, encyclopaedic in his knowledge of its history, people and literature. And nobody has ever carried his learning more lightly.

As we sailed from island to island – and, in those days, there were almost no tourists, and I can’t describe what a difference that made – he talked about Greece, Greek beliefs and traditions, about Byron and the Greek War of Independence, about those monstrously magnificent Greek heroes – men such as Mavromichalis and Kolokotronis, whose names roll so satisfactorily across the tongue – and about the Greek Orthodox Church and its quarrels with the West over words such as ‘filioque’ and ‘homoousion’, his talk taking in all the mystery and magic of the Byzantine world. Twenty years later, I was to write a history of Byzantium myself; but I doubt whether, had it not been for that fortnight on the Eros, I should ever have done so.

One day we were in a taverna on Santorini. Britain and Greece were then at the height of the Cyprus dispute and Paddy was, of course, firmly on the Greek side. Suddenly a member of the party at the next table, hearing us speaking English and being slightly drunk, launched into a stream of anti-British invective. We pretended not to notice. Then, suddenly, he and his companions burst into song.

‘Quick,’ whispered Paddy. ‘National anthem – everybody up.’

We leapt to our feet while he, naturally knowing all the words, sang them at the top of his voice. The mood of the other table changed immediately; and they were still more impressed when he continued with all the following verses – solo by now, since no one else knew them. Abject apologies followed: the ouzo went round once more, and we all departed friends.

It was characteristic of Paddy that, when he and Joan decided to build themselves a house in Greece, they chose the remotest corner: Kardamyli, at the far end of the Mani, the second of the three peninsulas that form the southern coast of the Peloponnese. And oh, how they loved it.

Paddy basically designed it himself. I remember him saying, while the building was in progress, ‘I want it to be part of outdoors, so that, if a chicken were found wandering through the library, no one would be a bit surprised.’

By November 1969, with its vast supply of bookcases, a huge desk and plenty of room to pace over a stone floor, the ‘powerhouse for prose’, as Paddy liked to call it, was ready at last. The two books describing his teenage walk across Europe, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, were both written there, together with hundreds of letters, articles and the jeux d’esprit which he so loved, and of which he was such a master. But those dread enemies procrastination and distraction were always hovering behind him, tempting him away. And as we shall see, they were to get him in the end.

Kardamyli was a huge success. It became the epicentre of Paddy’s world. For the first time, at 54, he had a home of his own. He continued to travel around Europe to see his innumerable friends, but it was here, I feel quite sure, that he was happiest. Outside Europe he was seldom tempted to roam. Except, surprisingly, for the Caribbean. A year or two after the war, he and Joan were persuaded by their old friend (and mine) Costa Achillopoulos to accompany him on a longish tour of the islands.

The result was Paddy’s first book, The Traveller’s Tree, which was published in 1950, and also his second, The Violins of Saint-Jacques, an exquisite little novella which was his only venture into fiction.

The islands fascinated him. His chapter on voodoo is a masterpiece. And then, when he got to Barbados, what did he find? A tablet in the churchyard of St John’s, carved with Doric columns and the cross of Constantine, reading: ‘Here lyeth ye body of Ferdinando Palaeologus, descended from ye Imperial lyne of ye last Christian Emperor of Greece. Churchwarden of this parish 1655-1656. Vestryman twentye years. Died Oct 3. 1679.’

Later, Paddy discovered that Ferdinando’s son Theodore had returned to England and had settled in Stepney, where he left a posthumous daughter baptised with the typically 17th-century name of Godscall Palaeologus.

She may have married, and had countless children; but, for the time being, this little girl in Stepney remains the last authentic descendant of the Palaeologi, the last imperial family of Byzantium.

Of course Paddy was a superb linguist; but I have never known anyone who enjoyed his languages so intensely. He loved on-the-spot translations: ‘To be or not to be’ in German, for example – occasionally recited backwards – or D’Ye Ken John Peel in Italian, which my daughter Artemis (his biographer) and I sang at his memorial service:

Conosce Gian Peel, con sua giacca tanta grigia?

Conosce Gian Peel, prima cosa la mattina,

Conosce Gian Peel, quand’ è lontano, è lontano,

Con suoi cani e suo corno la mattina.

And then there were the letters –letters that could have been written by no one else. Reading them, written at such terrific speed that sometimes they grow faint because the fountain pen can’t deliver the ink fast enough, one marvels at Paddy’s facility and fluency. And yet, when he was writing a book for publication, every sentence was a battleground. When, in July 1988, Sotheby’s sold the autograph manuscript of A Time of Gifts, it was described in the catalogue as follows:

‘c.450 pages, the majority written on rectos only, some on both sides, the first chapter on lined foolscap sheets, some cartridge paper, others lined, heavily revised and corrected, revised passages frequently written on separate sheets and pasted or clipped over the original, corrections or elucidations often in red ink, foreign or difficult words printed in the margin, many sheets with encouraging notes to the typist, often stapled or stitched with coloured thread into gatherings, generally of ten pages.’

I have an idea – I hate to have to say it and desperately hope I’m wrong – that Paddy’s last years were not as happy as the rest of his life had been. He missed Joan desperately after she died in 2003, he was getting old and he gradually had to face up to the fact that he would never complete the third volume of the story of that glorious European journey in his early youth. He produced bits and pieces for it by the dozen, but something always prevented him from organising them, connecting them and making them into a single coherent document. It was, I suppose, a kind of writer’s block.

He would seize on anything – letters, articles, translations, those ingenious word games he so loved – rather than face one of two facts: the first, that he must finish the job; the second – far worse – that he couldn’t. Eventually he knew that the second was the truth. When he came to London, people would say breezily, ‘How’s Volume III coming on?’, little realising that they were driving a dagger through his heart.

Volume III is not entirely lost. The Broken Road, compiled by Colin Thubron and Artemis, breathes Paddy through and through. And anyway, he has left us so much more to revel in.

As a travel writer, he was surely in a class by himself. But he was much more than a travel writer; he was the most extraordinary literary – and social – phenomenon I have ever known, and I am proud to have been his friend.

Who were Ghika, Craxton and Leigh Fermor?

A lovely video produced by the British Museum to accompany the exhibition Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor. Narrated by the exhibition curators. Discover more about their extraordinary friendship, creativity and life spent living together in Greece.

Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor
8 March – 15 July 2018
http://www.britishmuseum.org/charmedlives

Supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation and organised with the A. G. Leventis Gallery. In collaboration with the Benaki Museum and Craxton Estate.

Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor at the British Museum

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906–1994), Study for a poster. Tempera on cardboard, 1948. Benaki Museum – Ghika Gallery, Athens. © Benaki Museum 2018.

The British Musem has at last started to publicise this exhibition which focuses on the friendship of the artists Niko Ghika and John Craxton, and the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor. Their shared love of Greece was fundamental to their work, as they embraced its sights, sounds, colours and people.

Where? The British Museum, Room 5

When? 8 March – 15 July 2018

How Much? It is free!

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (1906–1994), John Craxton (1922–2009) and Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915–2011) were significant cultural figures of the 20th century. Leigh Fermor is perhaps the most widely known of the three – largely through his travel writings – and Ghika and Craxton are now recognised as two of the most remarkable artists of this period. The three first met at the end of the Second World War, becoming lifelong friends and spending much of their subsequent lives in Greece. The time they spent together and their close bonds would shape each other’s work for the rest of their lives.

The exhibition brings together their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions in the UK for the first time. Highlights include Ghika’s extraordinary painting Mystras and Craxton’s exuberant Still Life with Three Sailors. Also featured is Craxton’s original artwork for the book covers of Leigh Fermor’s travel classics A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Many artworks and objects on display are on loan from the Benaki Museum, to which Ghika donated his house and works, from the Craxton Estate, and from institutions and private collections in the UK and Greece.

The exhibition focuses on four key places – Hydra, Kardamyli, Crete and Corfu – where they lived and spent time together. Hydra is an island where Ghika’s family home became a gathering place for the three friends, and Leigh Fermor built a house with his wife Joan at Kardamyli. Craxton restored a house at Chania on Crete, and Corfu is where Ghika and his second wife Barbara transformed an old building into an idyllic home and garden.

Together, these places chart the story of this remarkable friendship, and how the people and landscapes of Greece were a great influence on their enduring works.

How an idyllic Greek hideaway inspired a British war hero and travel writer

Nikos and Barbara Hadjikyriakos-Ghika with John Craxton, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Joan Fermor, in 1958. Photograph: Benaki Museum – Ghika Gallery, Athens.© Benaki Museum.

By Jamie Doward

First published in The Guardian

24 December 2017

Oh, to have been a fly on the bougainvillea-clad wall as the drinks flowed and the sun sank behind the beautiful house tucked away in a remote part of Greece.

One night a visitor might find Stephen Spender or Louis MacNeice. Another, Lawrence Durrell and John Betjeman.

But always holding court, cigarette in hand, ouzo glass raised, would be Sir Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor, the war hero and travel writer often said to be the inspiration for his friend Ian Fleming’s most famous creation, James Bond.

In the late 1950s, the house Leigh Fermor built with his wife Joan in Kardamyli, a seaside village located in the Mani peninsula, in the southern Peloponnese, became a haven for writers and artists drawn to its owner’s extraordinary charisma and the wild, arid beauty of the surrounding landscape.

It was here that Leigh Fermor, who died in 2011 aged 96, built his close friendship with two men – the Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, who lived on Hydra before moving to Corfu, and the British painter, John Craxton, who lived for a time on Crete. Now the remarkable friendship is to be explored in a new exhibition at the British Museum that will open next spring.

Charmed Lives examines the influence that post-war Greece had on the three men and brings together in the UK for the first time their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions. Among the items on display will be Leigh Fermor’s typewriter (which he never managed to master), his binoculars and a Leica camera belonging to Joan, a professional photographer.

Striking paintings of Greek landscapes and local people by both Craxton and Ghika will feature alongside extracts from Leigh Fermor’s many books.

John Craxton’s ‘Still Life with Three Sailors’ reflects his Greek inspirations. Photograph: John Craxton

Sir Michael Llewellyn-Smith, a former British ambassador to Athens, who knew all three men and is one of the exhibition’s curators, conceded many would be drawn by the cult of Leigh Fermor, a polyglot and autodidact once described as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene.”

“There’s a tremendous fashion for him,” Llewellyn-Smith said. “In a way you’d expect it to diminish over time but the opposite is happening and it’s very difficult to explain. I don’t think it’s fully related to his work. It is for some people but there are others who are attracted by the legend.”

Much of Leigh Fermor’s legend is burnished by his epic walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, made as an 18-year-old, and his heroics during the second world war when, leading a group of Cretan resistance fighters, he captured the German commander General Heinrich Kreipe in one of the most audacious acts in the history of the Special Operations Executive.

While his postwar books such as A Time Of Gifts cemented his legend and led to Leigh Fermor being regarded as one of the great travel writers, it transpires that the real-life 007 also dabbled as an artist and several of his works will be on display in the exhibition. These include six portraits of Cretan resistance fighters painted in 1942. They are the only ones out of around 20 similar paintings to have survived. The majority were destroyed as the Germans advanced.

“Paddy had an extremely acute visual sense and was himself an artist, an amateur,” Llewellyn-Smith said. “When he was walking across Europe, when he was 18 to 20 years old, around Vienna he had virtually no money and so he started drawing portraits of people to get enough to get a crust of bread or more.”

Llewellyn-Smith said the fact that all three men had died only relatively recently –Ghika in 1994, Craxton in 2009 – meant there was much to be gained by producing an exhibition of their lives and friendship now.

“A lot of people who knew them are still around, and therefore for those organising the exhibition, such as myself, it was possible to talk to them and get their memories and anecdotes. This couldn’t have been done if the exhibition had been delayed by many years.”

The organisers say they hope it will offer visitors an opportunity to reflect on Greece’s enduring role as a source of artistic inspiration. It may also offer a subtle reminder that British-Hellenic relations can be about more than that most famous of British Museum attractions, the Parthenon marbles. “This period when these three men got to know each other was a period of artistic and literary collaboration, almost a renaissance between British and Greek artists and writers,” Llewellyn-Smith said. “It didn’t have anything to do with politics and returning sculptures to Greece. That’s a different century.”

It may also offer clues as to why, despite smoking around 80 cigarettes a day, just like Fleming’s Bond, Leigh Fermor managed to live so long. “When he was in the Peloponnese he would go for walks every day in the mountains behind the house and he’d swim for half an hour every morning,” Llewellyn-Smith said.

In his will, Leigh Fermor gave the house to the Benaki museum in Athens with instructions for it to be turned into a writers’ retreat. While some of Leigh Fermor’s devoted fanbase have grumbled about the pace of its renovation – which at one stage appeared to have fallen victim to Greece’s economic woes, – there are hopes the exhibition may elicit funds to speed things up.

If so, it would mean that more than half a century on from when Leigh Fermor built his idyll, it will once again help nurture a new generation of artists and writer.

Charmed Lives in Greece the exhibition will run at the British Museum 8 Mar-15 July 2018

A Friendship Hymn to Life in Greece

From the left: Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, John Craxton, Barbara Hutchinson-Ghika, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1958

Especially for those who are Greek or read Greek an article from Protagon about the Craxton, Ghika, Fermor exhibition, but worth a view by all as there are some fine Ghika pictures and new photos of the friends. If you do not read Greek and wish to find out what has been written, I have a Google Translate version for you here.

First published in Protagon 7 June 2017

Γκίκας, Κράξτον, Λι Φέρμορ: Μια φιλία ύμνος της ζωής στην Ελλάδα
Mία ανασκόπηση της ζωής και του έργου τριών σημαντικών προσωπικοτήτων της Τέχνης και των Γραμμάτων του 20ού αιώνα παρουσιάζεται στο Μουσείο Μπενάκη. Η έκθεση διερευνά τη φιλία που ένωσε τους Νίκο Χατζηκυριάκο-Γκίκα, Τζον Κράξτον και Πάτρικ Λι Φέρμορ, και την αγάπη τους για την Ελλάδα.

Η έκθεση «Γκίκας, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: η γοητεία της ζωής στην Ελλάδα» που παρουσιάζεται εφέτος στο Μουσείο Μπενάκη αντανακλά τις μαγευτικές εξερευνήσεις των τριών μεγάλων δημιουργών στην Ελλάδα του περασμένου αιώνα. Πρόκειται για ένα αφιέρωμα στη ζωή και το έργο τους αλλά και στη φιλία που τους συνέδεσε για σχεδόν 50 χρόνια καθώς και στον «διάλογο» που ανέπτυξαν μεταξύ τους.

Read More here ….

From Google Translate.

Gikas, Cracton, Li Fermor: A Friendship Hymn to Life in Greece

A review of the life and work of three important personalities of Art and Literature of the 20th Century is presented at the Benaki Museum. The exhibition explores the friendship that brought together Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghika, John Krasson and Patrick Li Fermore, and their love for Greece

The exhibition “Gikas, Craxton, Leigh Fermor: The Charm of Life in Greece” presented this year at the Benaki Museum reflects the magical explorations of the three great artists in Greece of the past century. It is a tribute to their life and work, but also to the friendship that has been associated with them for almost 50 years, as well as the “dialogue” they have developed among themselves.

It was organized by the Leventis Art Gallery in collaboration with the Benaki Museum and Craxton Estate and was first presented in Nicosia for the first time in the Leventis Art Gallery. It is now going to Athens and the year will be transferred to the British Museum of London (March – July 2018).

The tribute includes paintings and watercolors by Ch. Ghika and Cracton, and texts by Livermore, many of which come from unpublished material found by curators of the exhibition in personal records or in the archive of the author in the National Library of Scotland.

In addition, letters, pages of visitors’ books, notes, sketches, publications and dedications, as well as many rare photographs from the life of the three creators, revealing their love for Greece, history, myth, countryside and Greek Lifestyle, while reflecting their fascinating quests, their interactions and devotion to the joy of life.

The early years
The works come from the Benaki Museum Gallery, the Craxton Estate in London, the Leventis Art Gallery in Nicosia and many private collections, libraries and museums in Greece and abroad.

The first section of the report refers to the first years of their acquaintance with the events and the atmosphere of the era, which would then have an interdependent influence on their creativity.

The three artists met for the first time in the years 1945 and 1946. Nikos Chatzikyriakos-Ghikas met John Krasson and Patrick Livermore in London. Shortly thereafter, the two last met in Athens, and between the three, as well as between the two of them, Barbara Ghika and Joan Lee Fermor, a friendship was developed with a common reference point, the love of all of them for Greece. This friendship was going to prove highly resistant, since it would last for about fifty years.

Places of inspiration and happiness

The next sections of the exhibition revolve around the four places – Hydra, Kardamili, Chania and Corfu – that have been stamped over their work and friendship.

Hydra. There was an important chapter in the life of the three friends, but also a pole of attraction for Greeks and foreigners, intellectuals and artists. For Ghika he was the home of his childhood and later his refuge, his place of inspiration. For Livermore, “a source of happiness”, as he said, a retreat for the writing of his book “Mani” and for Craxton, a place of creation shortly before discovering his own paradise in Crete.

Chania. In 1947 Krassont visited Crete for the first time. One year later he returns and draws paintings on Cretan shepherds. The place and the people charm him and so in 1960 he decides to follow his dream and live in Chania, “in my beloved city, on my favorite island”. The house above the Venetian harbor became its main place of work. Many of his most famous paintings, with typical figures, scenes from everyday life, as well as landscapes of Cretan land, are created there.

Kardamyli. It is the place where Li Fermore will discover their own haven of paradise in the Peloponnese. Attracted by the nature of the area, his friend, Ghika, draws landscapes of Kardamili and creates works for decorating the house. Here Paddy, as he was his affectionate, will dedicate himself to the writing: “At last I could walk through the olive trees for hours, forming phrases and dissolve them in pieces again,” he writes.

Corfu. An old olive press at Sinias, Corfu, will be the new meeting and creation place for the three friends in the seventies. There, Ghika and Barbara’s wife will create a new “idyllic setting”, a welcoming “shelter of unique atmosphere and charm” that will inspire all three artists.