Sunday 15 April 2018


Yesterday I dropped in on the exhibition Charmed Lives in Greece at the British Museum (which seems to be a great favourite with Chinese tour parties – though this particular exhibition was not on their itinerary). The aptly named Charmed Lives celebrates the warm creative friendship between the artists John Craxton and Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (mercifully better known as 'Ghika') and the writer, adventurer and fabulist Patrick Leigh Fermor. Their charmed lives were conducted against idyllic backdrops on the islands of Hydra, Crete and Corfu and at PLF's beautiful home at Kardamili (of which I've written before).
  As well as paintings and drawings by Ghika and Craxton, the exhibition includes letters, book-jacket artwork, personal possessions (including PLF's typewriter and rather weedy-looking binoculars), and lots of black-and-white photographs of the three men in various combinations, with fellow artists and writers, celebrities and wives/boyfriends. Here's one of the supremely photogenic PLF with a goat on board a caique...
Both he and Craxton were fascinated by goats and felt great affection for them. Here's one of Craxton's lively goat paintings...
Craxton also loved cats, but PLF was not keen, describing them as 'interior desecrators and downholsterers' – was this the first use of the word 'downholsterer'?
  As for the paintings, it was interesting to see a range of Ghika's work, which I didn't know at all (that's a poster design of his above). He was clearly a gifted painter and draughtsman with a strong feeling for Greek landscapes. At some points in their careers, his and Craxton's paintings are strikingly similar in approach – bright colours and strong design, mixing abstraction and naturalism across a strongly patterned field. However, there is usually something lighter and somehow easier about Craxton's works, and he is clearly more interested in structure than the looser, brushier Ghika, whose later paintings tend to get larger, freer and more complicated, while Craxton keeps it simple and, usually, smaller in scale.
  However, Craxton was certainly capable of ambitious large landscapes, like this superb Landscape, Hydra, 1963-7...
  His figure paintings are, I think, weaker, though the images of dancing sailors and cafe life are full of energy and charm. For my money, the star of the show is another of Craxton's larger landscapes, the extraordinary, ravine-shaped Moonlit Ravine, which is painted, believe it or not, in tempera mixed with volcanic dust.
  I'm glad to have caught this fascinating little exhibition – not least because I'm flying off to Kardamili for a few days' walking next week.


  1. Best way to get to Kardamili? Fly to Athens and drive, or some other option?

  2. Fly to Kalamata, then it's a short drive - well, maybe half an hour...

  3. Thanks, Nige. I last toured the Peloponnese thirty-five years ago, behind the wheel of a sputtering Yugo 45 that finally expired somewhere near the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae. A return visit is long overdue.

  4. Enjoy it Waldo - some amazing Byzantine churches in those parts.