Archive for the ‘John Craxton’ Category

A biography by Ian Collins: a dissenting view

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this book. It is written of course because John was an important English artist, indeed one of the rising stars of English contemporary painting in the 1940s. But he went to live in Greece and as far as the metropolitan art world was concerned disappeared from view.

Ian Collins, author of this  biography, met John for the first time in 2000, when John was almost 80 and living mostly in London in his old family home. Failing health had forced him to withdraw from his adopted home in Khania in Crete. Collins, as he himself more or less admits, clearly saw this meeting as a career opportunity, trying from the outset to persuade John to let him be his biographer. John refused. Upset by the way in which journalists he had talked to in the past had betrayed his confidence, he had vowed never again to give interviews. Collins persisted, persuading John to let him at least write a monograph on his painting and in the end to give his blessing to the biography project.

A Life of Gifts was published in 2022, 13 years after John’s death in 2009. It was received enthusiastically by the posh press, both newspapers and periodicals. It was in addition awarded the Runciman Prize as the best book of the year about Greece, in the face of competition from really first-rate books by Mark Mazower and Michael Llewellyn-Smith, both of whom have a record of producing ground-breaking books about Greece.

I know people who have enjoyed reading the book. I can see that it might make a racy read if you come to it with little or no prior knowledge.  John had grown up in a world of well-known artists, musicians and writers. His life was colourful and unconventional, much of it spent in the Mediterranean, which, in a certain kind of provincial English imagination, still seems to conjure images of relaxed licentiousness  and general dolce far niente. “Paradise,” Collins calls it. “Chania in the early 1960s was very close to heaven” (p287), as if poverty, cancer, sorrow, the death of children did not occur in such places. Unexamined clichés of the travel industry. But as a serious account of the life of a serious artist, the book  is a non-starter.

It suffers from two unforgivable failings: appallingly sloppy and inaccurate language and a failure to address seriously the manner and substance of John’s work.

How it got past the Yale University Press editors, I cannot understand. It is probably the most badly written book I have ever read. The teacher in me wants to cover every page in red ink and  the warning signs are there, right from the first page.

The story begins with a description of the Craxton family setting off on a summer holiday. We know nothing as yet about any of the people mentioned.

“The two youngest boys (the future painter and politician), baby and luggage went in the back of the Austin 12. Essie had the driver’s seat with Harold beside her, leaving three sons still on the pavement and no more room in the vehicle. One boy (the one who became the Spitfire pilot) was directed on to the tailboard, to sit in an adapted luggage rack with his feet dangling behind them. The last two (the producer and engineer) were sent ahead, to wedge themselves between the bonnet wings and headlamps – each clinging to a lamp-bar for dear and thrilling life.

“In that careless era before the advance of child protection agencies , the Craxtons set off in a wild westerly direction pursued only by waves from amused and startled onlookers, rather than by policemen with whistles and handcuffs. On reaching Chichester Essie celebrated with a few spins around the Gothic crown of the city’s Market Cross – giving all her children a lifelong love of fairground carousels…”

When I first read this I had to ask my wife to take a look at it to make sure my reaction was not totally out of order. Her response: What on earth is he talking about?As you read on it becomes increasingly clear that Collins himself does not know what he is talking about. He does not know where he is going, what he is trying to say sentence by sentence. There is no focus. Random bits of information are bunged in together without any clear relevance,  clogging up the sense. On p3 we are told that the Craxtons were a happy family but did not know that a Tuesday birth was a bad omen in Greece because it was the day Constantinople had fallen to the Turks in 1453. John had been born on Tuesday October 3rd 1922, the day a peace conference had decided that the only way to resolve the contemporary (then) Greek-Turkish territorial disputes was to send Greeks back to Greece and Turks to Turkey, thus killing off Greek hopes of ever reclaiming Constantinople. “By the weekend,” we are told, “London shared the mood of mourning” – because Marie Lloyd the music hall star had died! 

This is the first mention of anything to do with Greece in the book. 

In the very next sentence we learn that Harold Craxton, John’s father, “wore his erudition lightly under a Homberg hat.” A classic schoolboy howler, never mind the total absence of any connection with the preceding asides about Greece. And such howlers abound, zeugma and elegant variation, in particular. “Pursued by demons, with an opium habit and a revolver in his pocket, (Kit Wood) leapt under the Atlantic Coast Express…” (p50). A German fighter plane opens fire on a lane where John’s sister Janet is walking with some friends, “…sending Bim into a hedge, Janet into a barn and Sylvia into hysterics…” (p60). On p224 we get, “…though the drinks in their hands and the chips on the shoulders were even more lethal…”

On page 176 it takes less than one line for a British military motor launch to be transmogrified into “the water-borne chariot” (p176). On p338 we are told, “A Conté pencil devotee also played with any wacky pen…”. On p172 we hear that “the passenger’s sore throat was cured by boiled camomile flowers.” In both cases he is talking about John. A page later (173) he becomes “an English painter with a passion for archaeology” who “gauged the lie of the land in the nearest coffee-house – the main social haunt of masculine Greece, with strong coffee and ouzo served in the cloistered shadows to the clack and slap of komboloi beads, playing cards and backgammon counters.”And then there is just plain gibberish. “The creative conversation paused for swimming, just when benighted Britain was braced for one of the coldest winters on record” (p170). “John alighted on to this milieu like a butterfly – leading to light friendships with society hostesses…” (ibid). “If Hydra had been the toast of creative philhellenes from the mid-1950s, a glass brimful of inspiration and enjoyment had now passed to Chania” (p287). 

“The Australian painter Sydney Nolan and his wife Cynthia stayed for several months…, John being impressed by the obsessive working method of a questing artist that entailed hundreds of drawings scattered over the studio floor as he built up to the big picture. Half the world away, an exile was getting to grips with the spirit of his homeland via images gathered from Greek mythology, animal bones and meditations on First World War slaughter of Anzac forces at Gallipoli” (p246). Commenting on the death of John’s patron, Peter Watson, Collins writes, “A spiritual malaise in the young Peter Watson militated against old bones” (p246). 

Unawareness on this scale makes it difficult to have much faith in anything the author says, either his own judgements and observations or his ability to retell accurately what he has been told by someone else. There is no sign of the built-in shit detector that Hemingway called  the number one tool of a good writer. 

The bad writing is bad enough, but a more serious failing when you consider this is supposed to be the biography of an important artist is the absence of any serious attempt to examine his work.

The art critic, Andrew Lambirth, reviewing the 2014 Fitzwilliam Museum exhibition of John’s work, organised by Collins, wrote,  “…it is after all the work that lives on after the artist, whatever fond memories may all-too-briefly exist in the minds of his friends and intimates… We need to determine just how prominent a place Craxton should occupy in the history of the period… We need to go now below the superficial narrative of the man’s life to penetrate the meanings and boundaries of his art.”

“Going below the superficial narrative of the man’s life” is something A Life of Gifts signally fails to do. Superficial narrative is all we are offered and with very little psychological insight. A reader, commenting on the Goodreads website, picked up on this. While thoroughly enjoying the book, he wrote, he had one caveat: “I did not feel I knew John Craxton quite well enough; he remained ephemeral and slightly out of reach, I wanted those extra personal touches and perhaps a bit more of his vulnerabilities to bring him closer.” 

We get endless, almost gleeful catalogues of what appear to be entirely trivial and ephemeral homosexual encounters, like notches on a tally stick. Were all these relationships entirely without significance? They are recorded as almost without affect, like the daily movements of a man’s bowels. Why do we need to know about them? 

There is loads of name-dropping, visits by wealthy people with yachts who apparently rush off in search of sex with sailors and shepherds. We are given potted biographies of people who barely even have walk-on parts in John’s life. I get more mentions than Richard Riley, his partner of forty-odd years, surely an unpardonable omission in a biography. In fact the book reads more like a Tatler diarist’s account of a glamorous house party than a biography. The man in the middle  remains  curiously unrealised: a natural sensualist and hedonist,  we are told time and again by Collins and by his reviewers.

Whether it was John’s own fault for saying that life was more important than art or David Attenborough’s for making this remark the starting point of his eulogy at John’s memorial service at St James’s, Piccadilly, I cannot say, but Collins has taken it up as the frame into which he is determined to push the whole of John’s life: John was a hedonist, a natural sensualist. The reviewers all took up the cry: clearly it was the impression they got from reading the book.

What is it supposed to mean? That John liked his food, spent his time being tickled in baths like the Roman emperor Tiberius, lolled about in deckchairs in Mastroianni sunglasses, languidly sipping cocktails? And when did he find time to paint?

I do not remember John as a happy-go-lucky, carefree, reckless adventurer always on the lookout for a good time. I remember him as a very private person, sociable, yes, always ready with a story or a joke, but actually rather shy and, I think, quite anxious and restless and uncertain, not entirely comfortable with his own achievement as an artist. When I said once that “At least you have got that wonderful legacy of work to look back on,” he said rather dejectedly, “Oh really, do you think so, it doesn’t seem that way to me.” I think he used the playful face he presented to the world rather successfully as a way of keeping it at a safe distance.

I lived in Khania in 1963 and ’64. I was a 21-year-old English teacher. John was twenty years my senior. I got married there to my French girlfriend. John helped me rent the house next-door to his and equip it for married life. I have still got tables and chairs that he found for me in villages round Khania. 

I do not recognise the Khaniá that Collins describes, with its party atmosphere and “internationalist set.” The old Khaniá harbour neighbourhood where we lived was a run-down slum, overlooked by the red-light district. On the waterfront, where today every single building houses a bar, restaurant or café, there was one café, an old hotel with wooden floors and wire-sprung beds, and in the only break in the houses, where a German bomb had fallen, a homemade shack where the wind howled in winter and a few locals gathered to drink coffee and smoke a narghile. The people who lived here were regarded with suspicion by Khania’s respectable classes. My employer’s niece, a private pupil,  warned me that the harbourside was not a proper address for a young married teacher like me.

Collins calls us the “internationalist set.” To me that suggests at least a modicum of what passes for glamour: bars, cocktails, fashionable clothes and fashionable people. We were half a dozen foreigners: three serious artists or writers, a couple of teachers, occasional drifters and a rather pitiable American drunk. None of us had money and mostly did not hang out together. The world-famous gay pick-up joint that Collins speaks of was either a very well-kept secret or a figment of his wishful thinking. There was no tourism. The sailors who  came into town at weekends from the nearby navy base at Souda were penniless, homesick National Servicemen, paid not much more than the equivalent of £1 a month. John himself lived on a retainer of £40-odd from the Leicester Galleries. He was in no position to offer anyone a good time. 

The average annual per capita income in Greece in the late 1950s was just over US $300. In 1963 Greece had just undergone twenty-five years of war, occupation and political turmoil. The jails were still full of political prisoners. Political executions had taken place as recently as 1952. That very spring of 1963 the left-wing MP Grigoris Lambrakis had been murdered by right-wing thugs, the event that inspired the film Z. Any Greek wishing to get a job in public service or a licence to start even the humblest kind of business had to have a certificate of ethnikofrosini – being nationalistically-minded, i.e. not having any left-wing political sympathies. This was obtainable from the police in the village where you were born and your family’s history for several generations known in its entirety­ to everybody. Greece was not what I would have called a happy-go-lucky party town. But you need to speak the language to see behind that veil, as indeed you still do to understand any country today.

Collins tells us Henry Miller’s 1930s Paris circle was partly re-constituted in Khaniá. The basis for this exaggeration,  the appearance of Fred Perlès, who features as Carl in some of Miller’s books; he turned up in late 1963 or early 1964, I don’t remember which. I knew him reasonably well. He liked to talk French with us. His mother had been French and my wife was from Paris. The Zorba movie people were around for a couple of months, but their presence had no impact on the life of the town. The idea that there was any kind of set is nonsense.

I stayed in touch with John for the rest of his life: 46 years in all. We were neighbours in London too. My wife and I used to go to our favourite Turkish restaurant with him and his partner, Richard. He would sit in the back of our camper van holding my wife’s hand. On the morning of his death, I was on my way to see him in hospital when I was stopped in the corridor  by a doctor, who told me, with tears in her eyes, “Your father has just died.” 

Collins’s book hardly touches on the last twenty years of John’s life. He does not appear ever to have tried to talk about John with Richard, who after all knew him better than anyone and most of John’s friends were dead by the time Collins met him. The only survivor from Cretan days with a real involvement in Greece is me. I speak Greek, write Greek, have been married to the place and am still heavily involved in Greek affairs.  Collins quotes some things I have written but has not spoken to me since I warned him that he was in danger of making John’s interest in Greece sound like a kind of arty Shirley Valentine relationship. Between us Richard and I might have been able to steer him away from some of his dafter interpretations.

In the end – and this is surely a rather odd conclusion to a biography – one is left with the impression that Collins’s goal is somehow to take possession of John Craxton – his own version of him at that. I will not attempt to analyse the psychology of that. But he claims, for example, that he found a doctor for John in his last illness, not a word about Richard’s selfless care for John and it was Richard, not Collins, who had to put up with his petulance and irritability. He claims that John’s friends have become his friends. He has come to love Greece as John did. He does not appear to understand that the Greece that John found so magical does not exist any more. He has tried to take over John’s house in Khania, claiming that his partner, an architect, has “beautifully and faithfully” restored it. Restored it to what? It was a tip when I first entered it in 1963 and a tip when I last visited in 2006. He has tried to get the John Craxton Trust, which pays him a stipend and expenses, to pay his partner to rebuild a literally ruined village house that John had bought some years ago and never used.

At least, I suppose, one can say that the publication of a book illustrated with a lot of photos of John’s painting is good publicity.  The cruel irony, though, is that the book that has finally emerged as the result of his “trust” is one that would have been deeply disappointing to him. Thank God, he did not live to see it.

Time indeed for a reassessment.

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More than surprised, I was actually rather shocked by the venom and silliness of William Feaver’s review in The Spectator  (June 25th 2011) of Ian Collins’ new book, a generous and extensive – indeed, the first ever – survey of John Craxton’s work, John Craxton (Lund Humphries; 2011). In fact, his article is less a review than a personal attack on John.

Tate Britain has organised a small exhibition to coincide with the publication of the book. The paintings are few and the show does rather give the impression of having been cobbled together to coincide with the launch of the book.

That said, I do not see how anyone could fail to be struck, for instance, by Pastoral for P.W., its wonderful movement and harmony and the striking colours: a perfectly balanced and dynamic composition. Music, in fact. And John often used to say, “The difference between my approach and Lucian’s  (Lucian Freud, the friend of his youth) is that Lucian has to have something to copy, whereas I paint from my imagination. For me painting is like composing…”

Or the big land- and seascape, based on the island of Hydra: an abstracted, schematic representation of the bare elements of the island – rock, angularity, spikiness – set  in a tessellated sea, a mosaic of dashes of brilliant, audacious colour against the distant mountain coastline of the Peloponnese.

Or the Cretan gorge, one of many that he painted, its architecture articulated and emphasised by the double and triple bright-coloured lines that are such a distinctive feature of John’s painting, the depth of the gorge pierced by a single broken line representing the penetration of the sunlight.

Feaver dismisses such paintings as “slotted together on Graeco-Byzantine lines”!

John was interested in the flat planes and schematic representation of Byzantine icon-painting. He said that going to Greece enabled him to get back behind the Renaissance and its influences.

“Not yet twenty and already well-versed in overgrown styling and poetic self-pity” – this is Feaver on John’s early work. Well, first, you might have thought, a young man of that age – a teenager, after all – might be forgiven a rather mannered introspection. But, included in the Tate show, are some wonderfully playful and entertaining letters that John wrote to EQ Nicholson, who was a kind of surrogate mother to him at this age. A read of them should have shown Feaver that self-pity was not something John indulged in and I never saw a hint of it in the fifty years I knew him.

There is something oddly personal in Feaver’s dismissiveness. John did not live an idyll, underlain by “scratchiness”; he lived a life like anyone else, painting, finding his way, and, yes, like most people who spend their lives painting or writing, he was often short of funds.

The “emblems,” as Feaver calls them, that recur in John’s painting were not a “hedonic mosaic of favourite things with which to fill pictures.” They were not “taverna enticements”; they were the elements of life in the poor, sun-baked, traditional rural society that Greece was in those  days. Men lived out on the mountain with their sheep and goats, shearing and milking by hand, sleeping on the ground, accompanying their animals at all times, as they still do. They fished, living on their small wooden boats, eating little, sleeping on the deck. They did their military service, the only time many of them ever went away from home. Their pay was not enough to keep them in cigarettes for a month. Their entertainment was comradeship and dancing: it was their means of self-expression – they did not read books; there was not any television. There was a NATO naval base at Souda, close to where John lived, whence the dancing sailors in his painting. “Tintin graphics,” indeed!

Life was poor, harsh, formal and ritualised. John’s painting reflects this. I can only think it is too great a leap of imagination for Feaver to understand how very different from sludge-coloured, blurry England the world that John had entered was.

He quotes some youthful, not very illuminating bit of philosophising about life that John had indulged in as a youngster and accuses him of “burbling away.” In fact, he goes out of his way to make this unusually articulate man, whose conversation was always full of wit and originality and startling insights, seem inane,  while, elsewhere,  allowing Lucian Freud to utter such profundities as, “The world is rather floorboardish,” without comment!

Perhaps it is just that Feaver is a fully paid up member of  the Freud claque, as Brian Sewell calls it. For John and Lucian did fall out, and badly. And I don’t suppose Brian Sewell’s repeated suggestions that John Craxton was the more accomplished artist and had taught Freud a thing or two have gone down particularly well with the claque.

Here is my little contribution to the Craxton/Freud feud. I was having lunch with John one Sunday not long before he died, when an old friend from the art world phoned to say that he had just lunched with Freud and had mentioned John’s name to him. “Oh, is he still alive?” Freud had replied, with exaggerated indifference. John’s reply – I could of course only hear his end of the conversation: “Next time, tell him I haven’t yet died of ‘art failure!”


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John died on Tuesday (November 17th). It is something I have been dreading for a few months now. There have been plenty of signs that he was approaching his end, though we still clutched hopefully at straws: when he perked up during a visit and began to reminisce in his inimitable way, responding always to an audience, recalling verbatim conversations he had with Kenneth Clarke sixty years ago, telling stories, describing some unorthodox and imaginative insight he had had into the origins of Minoan art or a painting of El Greco or some clear line of influence he had detected between Venetian Gothic, the Saracens, Copts and ancient Mesopotamia. But still it is a heavy blow and a great loss.

They asked me in the hospital if I was his son. I am no relation, yet in a way I have always felt that I was. He has framed my adult life. I met him in Khanià in Crete in 1963. He was forty-two and I was twenty-one. I had just come down from Oxford, packed my bags and returned to Greece, with typewriter and guitar, as I had always promised myself I would. Having spent my Post Office savings pursuing the dolce vita in Athens I found a job teaching English in Khanià.

On about my third evening there I found my way to Màrkos Anitsàkis’s on the square above the harbour. It was a wine shop chiefly, the big old barrels hanging off the walls, but Màrkos  served a few simple dishes as well. The only other customers were three men chatting in Greek over a glass of wine and a mezè. One of them, dressed in what looked like a Greek army greatcoat and forage cap, suddenly pronounced the name Charlie Mingus. I pricked up my ears as I have always loved jazz and got involved in the conversation.

The Greek “soldier” was of course John. Whether he really said Charlie Mingus, I forgot to ask him in the nearly fifty years that I knew him! But that is how I remember it.

I was renting a very simple room – bare boards, iron bedstead, tin basin. John found me a better one in a house that had once been the Italian consulate. Then, when the girl I married arrived, he found me a house right on the old Turco-Venetian waterfront next to his.

He was already king of Khanià, the centre of a little colony of foreign artists and writers, as well as being the rather outspoken self-appointed director of Khanià’s antiquities. He discovered the site of Minoan Khanià. When the authorities would not believe him he collected buckets of old pottery shards whenever it rained, until they had to concede that he was right. As he very often was, for he had a wonderfully original mind, his artist’s eye and imagination leading him to insights that duller spirits were not capable of. And there were rather a lot of them: they did not much like having their shortcomings pointed out, especially by a foreigner.

When Michael Kakoyiannis’s film unit arrived to make the film Zorba, John, who knew many of the people involved already, played host to them. I remember going into our local restaurant one evening to find a line of tables in the middle of the room, Anthony Quinn at one end, flanked by Simone Signoret, Alan Bates, Irini Pappa, Walter Lassally and others, with our ten-year-old peanut vendor, Orestis, sitting proudly at the other end of the table reading  a Greek newspaper upside down.

John was a wonderful story-teller and a man of great charm, who possessed the social graces in abundance. With his talent and the artistic connections he inherited from his family, he had an entrée into the most elevated social circles. In fact, he seemed to have met practically everyone who had been anyone in his generation and could recall in detail their mannerisms and conversation – which did not always redound to their credit.

Yet he was also very much at home with ordinary people and this was the Greece that he knew and loved and understood so well, not the Greece of the Anglo-Saxon classicist or philhellene, but the vernacular, “real” Greece of harbourside and sheepfold, of simple people who, dirt poor in those days, had only their traditions of heroic virtues to live by: physical courage, loyalty, family honour, the sacred duty of hospitality to strangers, endurance in hardship and resistance to endless enemies – all summed up in the notion of palikarià. Ian Collins in his Guardian obituary likened John to an ancient Cretan chieftain. And he was a sort of kapetànios, in his youth as well, a palikàri, one of nature’s aristocrats. There was always a certain lordly swagger to him, with his Highland regimental trews and old BSA motorbikes. He would pack me off to the mountains with packets of Matsàngou cigars as gifts for his shepherd friends, which, with a sly wink, they took as evidence of his aristocratic status – o lòrdhos Craxton.

He knew some real palikària too: George Psychoundàkis who had been his great friend Paddy Leigh Fermor’s (himself of course one of the greatest palikària) wartime runner; Manòlis Pateràkis, whose crack shot through the head of the German officer commanding had spared the women and children of his village from massacre; shepherds from the wilds of Sfakià who thought nothing of carousing day and night at a wedding and setting off back to the sheepfold in pitch darkness at 3am. He loved telling stories of how, on a visit to the local jail, he would be standing in the courtyard with the governor, when a voice called out, “Eh, John. Tell my mother you’ve seen me and that I’m all right!” It would be some young fisherman murderer, locked up for killing a man in a family feud.

The warmth and directness and shamelessness of the Greeks of those earlier generations appealed to him hugely. The Greek he spoke – not always grammatically flawless – was the Greek of the piàtsa, of the street. He understood that Greece and I am sure that helped him in his painting.

I am surprised there is so much emphasis on the neo-Romantic when people talk about his painting. I see nothing “romantic” in John’s mature work, that wonderful series of landscapes he painted from the 1960s onwards inspired by the Greek island of Hydra and the deep narrow gorges of his beloved Crete. They are the best Greek landscape paintings I have seen: that semi-abstracted rock rising from a glittering sea made of brilliant mosaic dashes of paint, spiky and angular with prickly pear, thorn and olive, the volumes all delineated and linked by his characteristic double and triple coloured lines; the deep rocky chasms of gorges dark and cool with shadow in the bottom, spiky bushes hanging over the void or an angular goat balancing on a tree… No painting evokes more vividly the still, silent, annihilating heat of a Greek summer noon and the delicious release of deep shade: the sensual, amoral, elemental, pared-down magic of the Greek landscape, presided over by the spirit of the pagan god, Pan, whose goatish profile he inserted like a signature disguised among the tumbling outline of rocks in a small 1988 painting that he called Metamorphic Landscape. I am amazed Greek collectors do not fall over each other to buy his work.

It is November 22nd as I write this. I cannot help remembering that forty-eight years ago this evening John came into my kitchen in Khanià and told us that President Kennedy had been assassinated and we laughed at him and would not believe him. Ever mischievous, you could never be sure that he was not pulling your leg. I remember once accompanying him to lunch with some rather glamorous and eminent woman journalist at our quayside restaurant. When at the end of the meal we took out our cigarettes, John proffered his matches. There was a scorpion in the box! And he played a central role in the controversy about the Metropolitan Museum’s Cycladic lyre player being a fake. He had met the sculptor on the island of Ios, I think it was, not in 1500BC but in 1947! When he pointed out to the sculptor that he should not be delineating the musician’s fingers or knuckles or something like that, the man replied in that splendidly unembarrassed Greek way, “Ma tha kànoume kàti kalìtero. We are making something a bit better!” That amused John hugely.

And he could never resist a pun. You could feel it welling up in him: some of them awful, some very funny. One of the sharpest I heard not so long ago, when someone phoned to tell him about a lunch he had just had with John’s erstwhile friend Lucian Freud. When John’s name was mentioned in the course of the lunch, Freud had apparently asked with feigned indifference, “Oh, is he still alive?” “Well, next time he asks,” said John to his caller, “tell him I haven’t yet died of ‘art failure!”

He loved his food too. He would recall all sorts of dishes he had eaten, where and how they had been cooked. And was he fastidious! If you put too much olive oil in the mayonnaise so that it had that rather dry, burnt taste or put the wrong sauce with the wrong fish or used the wrong kind of pan, you certainly got an earful! He loved Armagnac, but sadly could not drink it in his last days. When we brought him back a bottle – it had to come from the Gers – instead of drinking it he took the cork out and dabbed it behind his ear like a drop of scent.

He was one of a kind. And I shall be always grateful to him, for sending me off to the mountains – where I have tried to remain ever since.

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