Osborne Samuel Gallery held its first major exhibition of Craxton’s work in May-June 2018 titled ‘John Craxton in Greece – The Unseen Works’ that coincided with the British Museum’s exhibition of Charmed Lives in Greece : GHIKA , CRAXTON , LEIGH FERMOR. Both exhibitions were hugely well received and well attended. Craxton first went to Greece in 1946 with his then great friend Lucian Freud; Freud returned after six months and Craxton made his life in Greece, settling in Crete apart from a forced period back in Britain when the Greek military came to power.
Our exhibition in the Spring of 2021 will focus on the work that Craxton produced before 1946, a period of arcadian pastoral landscapes of dreamers and poets , befriended by Graham Sutherland whom he accompanied on trips to Pembrokeshire in Wales and financially supported by the aesthete and great benefactor of young artists, Peter Watson through whom he met other artists linked to the Neo-Romantic movement. Osborne Samuel Gallery represent the Estate of John Craxton.
Dancer in a Landscape, 1943
Pencil, charcoal and conté crayon and gouache on paper
45.9 x 58.65 cm.
Christopher Hull Gallery
Private collection, UK 1992
Private Collection, UK
Ian Collins, John Craxton, Lund Humphries, Farnham, 2011, p.49, illustrated pl.43
Dancer in a Landscape belongs to a series of images, painted or drawn by Craxton in the early 1940s, depicting solitary figures. He later described them as projections of himself, ‘derived from Blake and Palmer. They were my means of escape and a sort of self protection. A shepherd is a lone figure, and so is a poet.’ ₁
Poet in a Landscape and Dreamer in Landscape (now in the Tate collection) are dense pen and ink drawings, reproduced in Horizon in March 1942. In each, a seated figure appears oblivious of the encroaching vegetation, gnarled trunks and roots. Craxton’s lithographs for The Poet’s Eye (1944) likewise depict tin-helmeted figures, seated, lost in reverie amid moonlit landscapes, or half-concealed within trees.
By contrast, Dancer in a Landscape is lighter in mood. In the summer of 1943 Craxton travelled with Peter Watson and Graham Sutherland to St David’s Head in Pembrokeshire, where he sketched alongside Sutherland. As he recalled,
There were cloudless days and the land was reduced to basic elements of rocks, fig trees, gorse, the nearness of sea on all sides, a brilliant clear light. Everything was stripped away – all the verbiage, that is – to the essential sources of existence. ₂
This simplification is apparent in the clarity and lightness of Dancer in a Landscape. There is a joyous sense of movement in the depiction of the river, tussocks of grass, and soft shading of the figure, as well as the delicately feathered tree and spidery clouds. Throughout the composition, Craxton seems to delight in the possibilities of mark-making, lightening with chalk and adding touches of green and sepia
₁ John Craxton, in ‘John Craxton: Paintings and Drawings 1941–1966’, exhibition catalogue (Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1967), p. 6.
₂ Craxton, ibid.