Greece gets the spotlight at the British Museum, which hosts an exhibition focusing on the interaction between the written word and art, but also on friendships galvanised by war and the love for a certain place. The place is of course, the rough landscape of Greece during and mostly after WWII; the rocky mountains, bright light reflecting on white stone and crystal blue waters. The friendship is that of three significant figures of 20th century culture: writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and painters John Craxton and Niko Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas.
“The three men first met at the end of the Second World War, becoming lifelong friends and spending much of their subsequent lives in Greece,” reads the text describing the exhibition which brings together letters, photographs, personal belongings, but more importantly Ghika’s paintings – on loan from the Benaki Museum, to which the painter donated his house and his collection.
The exhibition focuses on four key places – Hydra, where Ghikas comes from and where the three men first started gathering together, forming their lifelong friendship; Chania, in Crete, where Craxton restored a house and lived there; Kardamyli, in the Messinian part of Mani, where Leigh Fermor built a house which was an artistic haven for decades till his demise in 2011; and Corfu where Ghikaw and his second wife Barbara transformed an old building into an idyllic home and garden. The exhibition is also a story about Greece, at a time when it was coming out of the war and became the point of attraction for artists and writers, people who fell in love with the place, the landscape, the people, the culture.
“Greece,” wrote the painter John Craxton, “was more than everything I had imagined and far more than I had expected.” The ‘Charmed Lives in Greece’ exhibition, open until the 15th of July and already the recipient of rave reviews, makes testament to that.