From 8 March – 15 July 2018 – The influence of modern Greece on the lives and work of three influential artists is explored in a new exhibition at the British Museum this spring. Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor (8 March – 15 July 2018) examines the enduring friendship between Greek painter Niko Ghika, British painter John Craxton, and British writer Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor. All three made homes in Greece, which are an integral part of the exhibition. The show brings together their artworks, photographs, letters and personal possessions in the UK for the first time.
The three men met at the end of the Second World War. They became lifelong friends and spent much of their subsequent lives in Greece. Their shared love of the Hellenic world was fundamental to their work, as they embraced the sights, sounds, colours and people of Greek life. Together they contributed to a golden age of Anglo-Greek artistic and literary collaboration.
The exhibition will explore how this close friendship influenced their artistic output which includes some of the best art and literature of the 20th century. While Leigh Fermor is the most widely known of the three – as one of greatest ever travel writers – Ghika and Craxton are recognised as two of the most remarkable artists of this period. The time spent together and their close bonds would continually shape each other’s work for the rest of their lives.
Highlights of the exhibition include Ghika’s extraordinarily atmospheric Black Sun and the enigmatic yet radical Still Life with Three Sailors by Craxton. Also featured is Craxton’s original artwork for the book covers of Leigh Fermor’s travel classics A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. The exhibition includes quotes from his books and letters.
Many artworks and objects on display are on loan from the Benaki Museum in Greece, to which Ghika bequeathed his house and works upon his death. The exhibition has been organised with the A. G. Leventis Gallery in Nicosia, Cyprus, in collaboration with the Benaki Museum and Craxton Estate. The exhibition is supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation.
A refuge of unique atmosphere and charm
The exhibition is split into sections that focus on the four key locations where the men lived and spent time together: Kardamyli, Crete, Hydra, and Corfu. Patrick and his wife Joan Leigh Fermor built their beautiful house in southern Greece at Kardamyli; it became a haven of good talk and hospitality for their many friends. John Craxton settled in a Venetian house on the Cretan harbour of Chania. There he drew and painted portraits of shepherds and sailors and scenes of local life.
Ghika’s ancestral house on the island of Hydra was an early gathering place for the three friends. The surrounding town and rocky landscape was an important inspiration for Ghika’s painting. After fire destroyed the house, Ghika and his wife Barbara transformed a farm with an old olive press into an idyllic home on the island of Corfu. Leigh Fermor later described it as “a refuge of unique atmosphere and charm.”
Charmed lives in Greece offers an opportunity to reflect on Greece’s enduring role as a source of inspiration for artists. While the country’s ancient past is a recurring theme in art, Ghika, Craxton and Leigh Fermor were inspired by the landscapes and local people that they encountered in their day-to-day lives. The works on display in the exhibition therefore offer a valuable image of 20th century Greece.
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Saturdays to Thursdays 10.00–17.30
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018