Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor

‘The olive groves are amazing at this moment – asphodel, Adonis Blood and huge mauve anemones, snow drifts of daisies, celandines, dwarf geranium, crocuses, violets, and right up at Vaidenitsa monastery, where we all picnicked yesterday, snowdrops and primroses in the stream-side moss. One almost faints…’ 

John Craxton, Reclining Figure with Asphodels I, 1983-4, private collection UK.

Any fans of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travel writing will enjoy this small exhibition at the British Museum that delves into the extraordinary friendship between artists Niko Ghika, John Craxton and writer, Patrick Leigh Fermor. The trio met at the end of the Second World War and went on to become lifelong friends, spending much of their time in Greece. The exhibition focusses on Hydra, an island where Ghika’s family home became a central gathering place, Kardamyli where Leigh Fermor built a house with his wife Joan, Chania on Crete where Craxton restored a house and finally Corfu, where Ghika and his second wife Barbara transformed an old building into an idyllic home and garden. A shared love of Greece and its sights, sounds, colours and people is evident in the work of all three men.

John Craxton, Fish Market, Poros, 1952. © Craxton Estate, London.

Having loved the covers of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, it’s interesting to see Craxton’s original artworks for the book covers on display, as well as evocative paintings that transport you to the familiar Greece of summer holidays past. There are also some fascinating photographs of Craxton with Churchill, Niarchos and Onassis, as well as pictures that document the building of the Leigh Fermor house at Kardamyli where they received a constant stream of famous visitors and wartime friends.

Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika, The Assault, 1946. Private Collection © Kalfayan Galleries, Athens, Thessaloniki.

Alongside the free exhibition The British Museum is running a number of talks:

Niko Ghika: from rocky Hydra to the gardens of Corfu on Tuesday 20 March 2018 at 1.15pm, free

Paddy Leigh Fermor and friends in Greece on Friday 27 April 2018 at 1.15pm, free

John Julius Norwich and Artemis Cooper in conversation on Patrick Leigh Fermor on Thursday 17 May 2018 at 1.30pm, free but early booking advised

Curators’ introduction to Charmed lives in Greece: Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor on Thursday 24 May 2018 at 1.30pm, free but early booking advised

Michael Palin on what makes a great travel writer on Friday 15 June 2018 at 6.30pm, £5, early booking advised.

Charmed lives in Greece, Ghika, Craxton, Leigh Fermor
8 Mar - 15 July 2018
The British Museum Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG
— Daisy Allsup
20th March 2018