John Craxton is appreciated by connoisseurs as one of the great British artists of the 20th century; however, his work is not widely known to the public.
He was born in London in 1922. His family was musical, rather than artistic, and his education was spasmodic, but he was privileged to meet people from amongst the Bohemian friends of his parents who treated him as an adult and with whom he engaged.
As a painter he was more or less self-taught, with short periods at Westminster School of Art, the Central School of Art and Goldsmiths College in London.
He visited Paris in 1937, when Picasso’s Guernica was on display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, and Picasso remained a lasting influence, as did William Blake, Samuel Palmer and Joan Miró. Graham Sutherland befriended him and invited him to come painting in Wales. In 1941 Craxton met Lucian Freud and they became close friends, although their friendship faltered over time, finally ending in the late 1960s. Sharing work premises from 1942–1944 they both drew dead animals — some of them given to Craxton by his friends during visits to Little Shelford.
Craxton travelled to the Isles of Scilly in the summer of 1945, where he revelled in the light, but it was confrontation with the brilliance and hardness of Mediterranean light when he visited Poros in 1946 that was to be the most profound influence in his life. He next visited Hydra and then went to Crete for the first time in 1947. He was to settle there in 1960, in Hania, but he exiled himself from Greece during the period of the military junta of 1967–74 and did not return until 1977. Instead, he travelled to North and East Africa and the Canary Islands.
The BBC/Public Catalogue Foundation's Your Paintings initiative features images of works by John Craxton:
In 2011, BBC Culture Show programme made a John Craxton film. This three minute video is presented by Sir David Attenborough: