John Craxton A Life of Gifts Ian Collins

Publication date:
11 May 2021
Yale University Press
384 pages: 229 x 152mm
160 color + b-w illus.
Sales territories:

Uplifting and engaging, this story recounts the life and career of a rebellious 20th-century British artist

Born into a large, musical, and bohemian family in London, the British artist John Craxton (1922–2009) has been described as a Neo-Romantic, but he called himself a “kind of Arcadian”. His early art was influenced by Blake, Palmer, Miró, and Picasso. After achieving a dream of moving to Greece, his work evolved as a personal response to Byzantine mosaics, El Greco, and the art of Greek life. This book tells his adventurous story for the first time. At turns exciting, funny, and poignant, the saga is enlivened by Craxton’s ebullient pictures. Ian Collins expands our understanding of the artist greatly—including an in-depth exploration of the storied, complicated friendship between Craxton and Lucian Freud, drawing on letters and memories that Craxton wanted to remain private until after his death.

More about this title

Ian Collins is an independent art writer and curator.

“A revelatory biography...reminds us that Craxton and Lucian Freud were once “thick as thieves”, 19-year-olds in wartime London carousing together at the Ritz in baggy blue jeans.”—The Daily Telegraph

“This beautifully produced book is a feast for the eyes and senses, full of reproductions of Craxton’s paintings of Greece, the country he loved most on earth.”—Ysenda Maxtone Graham, Daily Mail ‘Book of the Week’

“An account meticulous in detail and filled with incident...Craxton maintained a lifelong aversion to the prolix formulations of art critics, and it is easy to see how Collins, who excels at succinct yet suggestive glosses, was his ideal writer.”—James Cahill, Times Literary Supplement

“An illuminating account, dotted with wonderful vignettes [and] numerous magnificently vibrant depictions of the artist’s work...This uplifting book about a man who sought every opportunity to live to the full offers readers much to enjoy.”—Martin Bentham, Evening Standard

“Running through the highs and lows like a seam of gold is his distinctive body of work, beautifully illustrated, and the indomitable, teasing, sometimes rebarbative voice that charmed so many, always building up to the next joke, never taking itself too seriously, and sweeping all but the most cynical along with it."—Ariane Bankes, Spectator

“No one knows more about Craxton than Ian Collins...A rich and sympathetic book.”—Tom Fleming, Apollo Magazine

“[A] thoroughly researched, attractive and vivid biography”—Alexander Adams Art

“A joyful adventure story of an artist's life...Collins's biography is constantly entertaining and visually rich with filmic moments.”—Gill Hedley, The Burlington Magazine

“A full biography of a fascinating man who led a fascinating life”—Dancing Times

“I enjoyed immensely reading this informative book...Stories are thrilling and picturesque, opinions contrarian, startling and corrective.”—David Lee, The Jackdaw

“Ian Collins’s engagingly partisan biography conveys qualities not easily evoked, the appeal of a character whose default mode was happiness and who, if he had a tendency to ‘put his own interests first’ and to be ‘unreliable in an emergency’, had a care for others too. He made many friends, ‘mostly for life’.”—Rosemary Hill, London Review of Books