John Craxton would be better known had he not absconded from Britain at an early age and spent most of his life in a house by the harbour at Chania in Crete. His best-known images are his woodcut-like cover illustrations for his friend Patrick Leigh Fermor’s travelogues. The subtitle of this biography, ‘A Life of Gifts’, might be a pitch to Paddy-philes: A Time of Gifts was Leigh Fermor’s 1977 account of his youthful walk across Europe. But the rising interest in Craxton’s life and work since his death in 2009 doesn’t entirely derive from the Leigh Fermor connection. It also reflects the labours of Ian Collins, who published the first full-length monograph on Craxton in 2011 and has now written the first (and surely definitive) biography of this lyrical and sophisticated English modernist.
Pianists of a certain age will already know the Craxton surname. John’s father, Harold, was a composer and arranger who introduced Debussy to the English, accompanied Nellie Melba and Clara Butt, and taught generations of piano players, including Winifred Atwell and those of us who first flailed at the keyboard