John Craxton R.A. (British, 1922-2009) Five Goats 121.9 x 149.4 cm. (48 x 58 7/8 in.)

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Lot 74AR
John Craxton R.A.
(British, 1922-2009)
Five Goats 121.9 x 149.4 cm. (48 x 58 7/8 in.)

Sold for £ 125,062 (US$ 156,241) inc. premium
John Craxton R.A. (British, 1922-2009)
Five Goats
signed and dated 'Craxton 59' (lower right)
tempera and polyfilla on board
121.9 x 149.4 cm. (48 x 58 7/8 in.)

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The Artist
    Yonty Solomon, by whom bequeathed to the present owner
    Private Collection, U.K.

    Exhibited
    London, Whitechapel Art Gallery, John Craxton: Paintings and Drawings 1941-1966, January-February 1967, cat.no.81

    In 1942, after a visit to Wales or Dorset, the 19-year-old John Craxton drew his first portrait of a goat. What was clearly a domesticated creature looked as docile as a lamb.

    Four years later, finally freed from war-hit England, the artist found himself in Greece, where he had wanted to be all along. The first landscape picture he completed in his adopted homeland included a goat foraging on a fig tree. Many flocked in its wake as symbols of wilderness and wildness and what Craxton called "the persistence of myth in everyday existence": livestock linking to the gods of ancient Greece (Pan and the goat that suckled Zeus).

    Goats emerged or remained partly concealed within the angular geometry of Craxton's early Aegean pictures, where the rugged and jagged nature of the rocky terrain was captured with a semi-cubist style. They added life and tension to each scene – for, as the artist said: "Goats are essential domestic animals in the Mediterranean and yet they destroy the landscape, nibbling away at the trees and devouring every green shoot."

    In his major 1948 picture Pastoral for PW (the arts patron Peter Watson), now in the Tate Gallery, a goatherd plays a flute to a bovine company, which Craxton imagined as very private portraits of his friends – much like Elgar's Enigma Variations. He let on later that the most prominent goat was Lady "Peter" Norton, wife of the British Ambassador to Athens and another Craxton patron.

    In Four Figures in a Mountain Landscape (1950-51; Bristol City Art Gallery), painted for the Festival of Britain, a quartet of goatherds is almost eclipsed by goats teeming from darkness into light - making their way for milking from the cave where they have been sheltered overnight.

    By the time of this sunlit Five Goats masterpiece, reinvigorated cubism has given way to a brilliantly linear painting method which owes much to the antique art of Greece and most to Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. And the fig-eating goats have now consumed the entire composition.

    This painting may have been begun on the island of Hydra, where Craxton spent lengthy periods in the late 1950s living and working in the ancestral mansion of his closest Greek painter friend, Niko Ghika. But a lot of his imagery was derived from visits to wilder Crete, where he would settle in 1960.

    Experimenting with materials in every picture, and always ready to work with whatever happened to be usefully to hand, Craxton has moved on from the oils of the early Greek pictures to his own versions of tempera. Form and volume have been fleshed out in this instance with the building repairer's medium of Polyfilla, applied with a palette knife.

    The given date of 1959 is deceptive. Five Goats was a highlight of Craxton's January 1967 Whitechapel Art Gallery retrospective, whose catalogue dates it to 1959-66 – an image of great immediacy finally abandoned, apparently, when the exhibition deadline loomed. With life itself a work (and a party) in progress, the artist was reluctant to finish anything.

    We are grateful to Ian Collins for compiling this catalogue entry.
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