April 2017 Object of the Month

Wednesday April 19 2017

This month's object is chosen by the Director of Public Programming and Learning

The Mill, Alderholt (1943) by John Craxton (1922-2009)Every month, a member of staff from the Britten-Pears Foundation chooses their favourite item or object from the archive. This month features Dr Lucy Walker, Director of Public Programming and Learning:

The Mill, Alderholt (1943) by John Craxton (1922-2009)

There are 13 paintings by John Craxton in the very extensive Red House collection (over all about 2000 items), most of them acquired in the early 1950s. Craxton was from a very artistic family and was a personal friend of Britten and Pears – his father, Harold Craxton was a professor of music and his sister, Janet, was a professional oboist who often performed Britten’s compositions. One of the most striking – and colourful – of Craxton’s works on display, and in fact in the whole collection, is my personal favourite: The Mill, Alderholt. Its vivid red and greens are a reminder of Pears’s taste for those colours in particular (many other paintings have this combination, as do the carpets on the ground floor of The Red House!). It was painted in 1943 when Craxton was staying at The Mill with Elsie Queen Nicholson and her family during the war. Its particular glossy quality is down to the type of paint: Ripolin, a household enamel paint, presumably used because of wartime shortages of the more conventional materials. Even before I knew this surprising fact, I had been drawn to the painting’s rich colours – seemingly not faded at all over the last 70 plus years – and the eye-catching splash of red at its centre.

Craxton, who shared a studio with Lucien Freud in the 1940s, has been somewhat under his contemporary’s shadow in terms of reputation but in recent years there have been more exhibitions of his works and some high-profile champions, such as David Attenborough, a friend of the artist and a great advocate for his work.

The Mill, Alderholt is currently hanging in the Queer Art display in The Red House.

Image courtesy of the Craxton Estate