John Craxton

Dreamer in Landscape


Not on display

John Craxton 1922–2009
Ink and chalk on paper
Support: 548 × 762 mm
Purchased 1984

Display caption

This subject and its treatment immediately suggest the inspiration of Palmer and Blake. Craxton has pointed to his first sight, in 1941, of two works by Palmer as one influence on this work: 'Palmer took the essence of something and paraphrased it so that one had a poetic image of it. It was a distillation of nature.' In the 1940s Craxton drew and painted landscapes which included shepherds or poets: 'as projections of myself they derived from Blake and Palmer. They were my means of escape and a sort of self protection. A shepherd is a lone figure, and so is a poet'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

T03836 Dreamer in Landscape 1942

Black ink and white chalk on paper laid on board 21 5/8 × 30 (548 × 762)
Inscribed ‘- Craxton 42 -’ on lower edge near centre
Purchased from the artist through Christoper Hull (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: John Craxton paintings and drawings 1941–1966, Whitechapel Art Gallery, January–February 1967 (99, as ‘Dreamer in a Landscape’); British Drawings 1939–49, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, June 1969 (no catalogue); John Craxton, Hamet Gallery, September–October 1971 (18, repr. on cover); John Craxton Drawing and Painting 1942–1972, MacRobert Centre Art Gallery, University of Stirling, February 1972 (20); Decade 40's, AC tour, Whitechapel Art Gallery, November 1972, City Art Gallery, Southampton, December 1972–January 1973, Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, January–February 1973, Durham Light Infantry Museum and Arts Centre, Durham, February–March 1973, City Art Gallery, Manchester, March–April 1973, City Art Gallery, Bradford, April–May 1973, Museum and Art Gallery, Aberdeen, May–June 1973 (79, as ‘Dreamer in a Landscape’); The British Neo-Romantics 1935–1950, Fischer Fine Art, July–August 1983, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, August–September 1983 (63, as ‘Dreamer in a Landscape’, detail repr.).
Also repr.: Horizon, v, March 1942, p.189, as 1941; in col. in William Feaver, ‘Wartime Romances’, The Sunday Times Colour Magazine, 20 May 1973, pp.74–85 (as ‘Dreamer in a Landscape’, repr. p.76)

In June 1986 Craxton told the Gallery that the correct title of this work is as given here, without the indefinite article.

In answer to a question from Bryan Robertson, in ‘Dialogue with the Artist’ in the catalogue of his Whitechapel retrospective in 1967, Craxton explained that:

In my formative years, travel was restricted because of the war. When I began to paint and draw, even at preparatory school, landscape was my first preoccupation as well as figures in landscapes. Being a Londoner, I needed landscape; at any rate there was always a strong pull towards nature as a contrast to town life and as a source of refreshment.

In an interview with Gerard Hastings published in the catalogue of John Craxton, An Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings 1980–1985, Christopher Hull Gallery, June–July 1985, pp.21–3, Craxton recounted that Peter Watson (on whom see the entry on Craxton T03838, below):

showed me proofs of some Palmer illustrations to be published in Horizon Magazine. They were the first Palmers I ever saw, and were not very good proofs actually, but they were all I needed. And I had not even heard of Palmer before that...I think you have to look at what I did, to see the influence; Palmer took the essence of something and paraphrased it so that one had a poetic image of it. It was a distillation of nature, and I suppose that I wanted that clarity of purpose. You might say that my work is ‘escapist’ art and, somehow, it became an antidote to the war in the same way that Palmer's was an antidote to his times: he felt an impulse to draw the way he did despite the contemporary scene.

In a letter to the compiler postmarked 26 April 1986, Craxton wrote of ‘Dreamer in Landscape’:

I can't see much of Palmer in this work; it's very much a winter scene in feeling touched with childhood memories of North Wales but again it would never have looked like it is without having seen two Palmers in Horizon ‘Valley Thick with Corn’ and ‘Early Morning’. I'm sure too, that seeing Picasso's Minotauromachy etching [1935] in Peter Watson's flat plus a book on Marcantonio [Raimondi, Italian engraver of Raphael and others, c.1480–c.1534] helped.

The two works by Palmer, both of 1825 and both in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, were reproduced in Horizon, iv, November 1941, between pp.318 and 319.

In the same letter Craxton also explained that if there were preparatory drawings for ‘Dreamer in Landscape’ they would probably have been very fleeting in character.

I very rarely do drawings or preparatory works. I know that the dreamer was done with the idea in my head quite clearly before I started. I was working in a minute and cluttered room in Abbey Road Mansions (our house had been bombed). A German refugee boy staying with us posed for the figure. At the time I had a deep nostalgia for mountains, rocks, and such places. I probably used the convenient house plants on my window sill as vegetation. The moon trees are inspired by the strange pollarded trees of St John's Wood that rose up behind the garden walls gesticulating at the sky.

‘Dreamer in Landscape’ is close in both imagery and feeling to two other works by Craxton of the same period and dimensions, ‘Poet in Landscape’ 1941 and ‘Poet and Birdcatcher in Landscape’ 1942 (both reproduced in Geoffrey Grigson, John Craxton Paintings and Drawings, 1948, plates 3 and 4). Prominent in all three works is a figure with eyes lowered or almost closed, an abundance of plant forms, and the same kind of distinctive twisting and pointed tree branches. All three works include a crescent moon. In the 1985 interview quoted from above, Craxton also stated:

I suppose that the figures in some early landscapes are myself. Between 1941 and 1945, before I went to Greece, I drew and occasionally painted many pictures of landscapes with shepherds or poets as single figures. The landscapes were entirely imaginary; the shepherds were also invented-I had never seen a shepherd-but in addition to being projections of myself they derived from Blake and Palmer. They were my means of escape and a sort of self-protection. A shepherd is a lone figure, and so is a poet. I wanted to safeguard a world of private mystery, and I was drawn to the idea of bucolic calm as a kind of refuge.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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