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John Craxton: The British Painter with a Greek Soul

john craxton painter greece benaki
“Two Figures and a Setting Sun,” John Craxton, 1952-67. The works of John Craxton will be on display at the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece. Credit: Benaki Museum

British painter John Craxton, who lived from 1922 until 2009, is known for his iconic depiction of his beloved second home—Greece.

The life and work of this extraordinary philhellene are the subjects of a new exhibition called “John Craxton: A Greek Soul” at the Benaki Museum in Athens, which opened on Wednesday.

From a young age, Craxton showed an incredible talent for painting, as well as a complex understanding of shape and color.  At the age of just 19, Craxton was already considered a prominent figure in the world of modern art in Britain.

British painter John Craxton inspired by Greece

Working with important figures in art such as Lucian Freud and Graham Sutherland, Craxton developed his skills as a painter. Yet, it was not until the British artist visited Greece that his artistic vision fully blossomed.

Upon arriving in the country in 1946, Craxton fell in love with Greece and the beauty of its landscapes, people, and traditions.

While his previous work was heavy, dark, and solitary, the paintings he produced in Greece were vibrant and full of life. Craxton particularly loved painting portraits but also animals, such as cats and goats, both of which are inextricably linked to Greece.

The show, which occupies four galleries, includes a total of ninety of the British painter’s works spanning his entire career.

Exhibit includes pieces that have never been displayed before

The show includes many pieces by the artist that have never been exhibited before. Along with work created in a wide variety of media, including prints, paintings, drawings, and tapestries, some of Craxton’s personal possessions and photos are also on display.

The highlights of the exhibition include the many portraits Craxton completed of Greek people, which are very moving. His landscapes and depictions of sites across the country are also striking.

Most notable, however, is Craxton’s incredible tapestry entitled “Landscape with the Elements.” Inspired by traditional Cretan weaving, the tapestry embodies Craxton’s appreciation for and love of Greece.

The exhibition will be in Athens until September when it will be on display in Chania, Crete until January 2023, at which time it will go on display in London.

Craxton, as well as Greek painter Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika and philhellene author Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, was the subject of an exhibition at the British Museum in 2018.

It is said that the exhibition displayed the artists’ “shared love of Greece [that] was fundamental to their work, as they embraced its sights, sounds, colors, and people.”

The three figures met at the end of WWII and spent many years living and working in Greece.

The show, entitled “Charmed Lives in Greece,” brings together their artwork, writings, photos, and personal letters, cataloging how their lives and work were shaped by Greece.

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