John Craxton, ‘Autumn Landscape with Hills, Spetse’, 1946, Osborne Samuel

This large post-war gouache celebrates the London-born neo-romantic John Craxton’s early discovery of Greece where he would subsequently base himself for much of his long career. The dark, richly coloured work also reveals his admiration for Picasso (whom he met in Paris through the dealer Pierre Loeb), the crisscrossing lines and superimposed planes of red, ochre, olive and dark green adhering to the picture plane in a faux cubist manner. What the picture loses in terms of conventional spatial perspective and topographical naturalism it more than makes up for with its tactile, schematic and incidental detailing in which spiky trees, field patterns, hill contours and stone walls enliven the otherwise abstract colour zones.

Craxton loved Greece from the off. Through the good offices of Lady Norton the socially well-connected young painter enjoyed two post-war shows with the British Council in Athens. In 1946 he was joined on the island of Poros by Lucian Freud with whom Craxton had visited the Scilly Islands during the war. To celebrate his 24th birthday Craxton took a holiday on the neighbouring island of Spetse. The present work was the happy outcome.

Like Picasso Craxton enjoyed rusticity and in 1948 told Geoffrey Grigson that, “I can work best in an atmosphere where life is considered more important than art - where life itself is art.” The dry islands of the Mediterranean with their maritime traditions and simple peasant way of life always inspired him as it did his friends Julian Trevelyan and Mary Fedden. Though he kept a London house Craxton declared that, “I feel like an émigré in London.” Nevertheless, his exhibiting career continued unabated in the capital, where his early London Gallery displays led to regular solos with the Leicester Gallery throughout the 1950s and 1960s and with Christopher Hull during the 1980s.
Peter Davies

Signature: Signed & dated 16.10.46

British Council, December 1946, Athens
London Gallery, ‘An exhibition of Recent Paintings & Drawings by John Craxton & Lucian Freud’, Oct - Nov 1947, cat. no.2 (as Autumn Landscape of Hills), London
Fischer Fine Art, ‘The British Neo-Romantics 1935-1950, July-Aug 1983, London

Ian Collins, ‘John Craxton’, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2011, ill. pl.83

Princesse Calimachi
Costa Achillopoulos
Karya Utama Gallery, London
Peter Nahum, London
Private Collection, 2007, UK

About John Craxton