The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 17, 2013

November 17, 2009

John Craxton (October 3, 1922 to November 17, 2009) came from a family of intellectuals involved in music. They encouraged his painting and he is now counted a major talent in that field. Craxton lived in Crete where he had a house on the harbor in Chania (a region of Crete). His family's London home meant he could really live both places. The Guardian obituary for Craxton contains marvelous detail and we will quote from it. First though, here is a painting of his, currently in the Tate collection.

This is "Still Life with Cat and Child" (1959) (Tempera on board support)

Ian Collins was a friend of Craxton's and wrote the obituary published in The Guardian, (November 19, 2009). I have rearranged some sections as I often do in these circumstances, but the intent and quoted material is of course, exact.  And so: 

John's father, Harold Craxton, was a pianist, musicologist and professor at the Royal Academy of Music. The family home in St John's Wood, north-west London, was a chaotic haven with five boys and, finally, a longed-for daughter (the oboist Janet Craxton). Famous musicians visited, impoverished students were virtually adopted, meals were massed assemblies. The novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard, who shared a governess with John at one point, fell for the glamour of such bohemian disorder and wrote of his parents: "They were happy and, like pollen, some of this rubbed off on anyone who came in contact with them." [Craxton did however have the often unhappy boarding school experiences of his era]. 

[Skipping mention of  key life events, like Craxton being rejected for military service, we find--].... John's key patron was Peter Watson, co-founder of the arts magazine Horizon and the Institute of Contemporary Art....Through "PW", he met Joan Rayner, later to marry the writer and fellow lover of Greece Patrick Leigh Fermor, whose book jackets John would decorate most brilliantly. Late in 1941 he met Lucian Freud, and for a time the two were inseparable, both taking drawing lessons at Goldsmiths College.

Early in 1942 Watson offered to fund a studio for his protege, and John found a maisonette around the corner – convincing the benefactor that Freud could take the top floor
[of the maisonette] and they would both still focus on work. A neighbour railed against the mice that consumed John's still-life studies of croissants and the girls ringing his doorbell after midnight and asking for Lucian. Mercifully, he [the neighbor] missed the dead animals brought in for Lucian to draw (one putrid monkey corpse was hidden in the oven when Sir Kenneth and Lady Clark came to tea)....

In 1946 the painter John Craxton,..., had a show of haunted landscapes in Zurich. He sent a postcard home, saying that he might go on to Italy, but by the time it arrived he had landed in his eventual homeland of Greece. He had been spirited away [from Zurich] by Lady Norton, wife of the British ambassador in Athens, who was seeking provisions abroad in those straitened times in a borrowed bomber. ...

After a joint 1947 show with Freud at ELT Mesens' London Gallery, solo shows followed regularly and then sporadically. The list included six Leicester Galleries exhibitions to 1966, a 1967 Whitechapel Gallery retrospective, four shows with Christopher Hull (1982-1993) and a final display with Art First in 2001. By then he had accepted election to the Royal Academy,
[1993] after nomination by his friends Eduardo Paolozzi and Mary Fedden, but he exhibited rarely.

Lastly, the obituary included this picture described as a "Detail of John Craxton's Shepherds Near Knossos (1947)." That landscape seems on the verge of breaking into speech.

John Craxton's Shepherds Near Knossos (1947)
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