Charmed Lives in Greece is the recent British Museum show exploding the works and relationships of Niko Ghika, John Craxton and Patrick Leigh Fermor.
Ghika, Craxton and Leigh Fermor
These three creatives lived, worked and played in twentieth century Greece. Niko Ghika was a Greek. Born in Athens, he explored traditional Greek artistic motifs, but was also interested in innovative styles He spent some of his youth in Paris.
John Craxton was an English emigre. A sexually fluid man, his work is enthused with a limpid sensuality. He worked from memory and imagination and his pieces are suffused with allusion and longing.
Patrick Leigh Fermor is another Englishman who moved to Greece. He is famous for his travels across Europe during the interwar years and his wartime exploits (filmed as Ill Met by Moonlight by Powell and Pressburger). He settled in Greece and was good friends with Ghika and Craxton.
Highlights of Charmed Lives
The show is a real treat. Ghika was a master of his craft. He experimented with different styles but returned to similar themes such as nature and landscape. It is sometimes hard to get a grasp of development due to a confusion chronology, but what you lose in strict biography you gain in understanding.
The works of all three artists define post-war optimism. They express colour, freedom, movement and perhaps exoticism. The exoticism of the near East and the timeless ancient.
The ancient enthused the work of Craxton. It was not always prominent but it was there. Craxton’s self portrait is very similar to the Fayum portraits, his painting on the fish market resembles seafood mosaics and his work Voskos is based on a Bronze Age work of art. This influence is often transcends the narrow confines of classicism. ‘Reclining figure with Adphodels I’ draws on greek imagery of asphodel (a symbol of mortality) and pre-Raphelitism to enthuse the art with a heavy homoeroticism.
At other times, the show can be a little literal. A photo of Craxton with a goat is placed next to a painting of a goat by Craxton in Hotel by the Sea. It is only much later in the exhibition that we learn, according to Leigh Fermor that the goats in Craxton’s paintings symbolised “independence and escape”.
A great show, this is really worth a visit, not least because it’s free. Four stars.