John Craxton. Dreamer in a Landscape, 1942. Ink with pen and chalk
Andrew Lambirth's Spectator tribute to the painter John Craxton, who died recently, is a lovely read:
An artist with a particular interest in the inhabited landscape, Craxton could summon up the spirit of place with a wit and ingenuity that left most painters of his generation standing. Aware from youth that there is no art without other art, he sought out essence rather than originality, but achieved an original vision by the depth of his understanding and interpretation. John detested labels and pigeonholes, principally because they encouraged unjustified assumptions and lazy thinking, and he is frequently quoted as disliking the term ‘neo-romantic’, which was attached to his own work of the 1940s. It was the ‘neo’ he objected to particularly, being proud to admit his indebtedness to the Romantic vision of William Blake and Samuel Palmer, just as he would be the first to claim the inspiring influence of Byzantine art.
I had nearly forgotten about Craxton. When I studied painting nearly 20 years ago I found his work intriguing. I was in those days a devotee of Caravaggio, Degas, Van Gogh, Freud, Bacon, Whistler, the impressionists, the fauves, Stanley Spencer and the Camden Town painters. I still am. But it was a few years before I discovered my taste for English Romanticism. I had a good working knowledge of Turner, Constable and Samuel Palmer, however it was some time - after much solipsism and many nights spend wandering under harvest moons that I fell truly under their spell and was properly awed by their achievements.
Constable is out of fashion now, but I always think of him when I walk in a betting shop during the Flat season and see evening racing from Salisbury: not having the BBC's budget, the SIS only has cameras for long shots and this is a boon; you get a complete picture: the gaily coloured jockeys galloping through a blue and gold dusk, lush green turf dappled by evening sunlight, trees and the cathedral behind them in the distance. I must paint that view one day.
Walking through a warren of dark wet streets the other night I turned a corner I don't normally turn and there stood a pub, a proper pub with a proper name, lit up from one end to another with coloured bulbs and glowing with friendly light. It's a good pub that myself and my friends have fallen out of the habit of using. It was like encountering a lit-up pleasure boat on a dark and wintry river. Just the sight of it was a pep without even buying a drink.
I hope we don't lose too many places like that as England disintegrates - they make winters in these bleak cities a bit more bearable - but of course we already have.