John Leith Craxton was born on 3rd October 1922 in London, into a highly musical family. His father was a pianist and his mother a violinist. After attending seven different schools, at 17 he went to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris; on the outbreak of war he returned to London, enrolling at the Central School of Art. By the age of 19 he was established in a maisonette at Abercorn Place in St John's Wood, which he shared with another young artist, Lucian Freud. Rent on this flat was paid by the influential patron Peter Watson, who owned Horizon Magazine and who gave the young artists introductions to such figures as John Piper, Graham Sutherland, Augustus John and the art historian Kenneth Clark.
Because he suffered from pleurisy, in 1941 Craxton was rejected for military service. In the early 1940s Craxton's style changed rapidly between different influences and it was during this period that he produced his most intense images. At this time both he and Freud were fond of using dead animals as models (when Clark called, there was a dead monkey hidden in their oven). As soon as the war was over, Craxton took off for the Continent. By the end of 1946 he had spent time in France, where he met Picasso. He had also visited Switzerland, where he exhibited; Italy and Greece, a country with which Craxton fell in love and in 1960 Craxton finally settled at Hania on the island of Crete, where his life was by all accounts as idyllic as his pictures had become. From the late 1940s Craxton's favourite subject had been the sun-baked south, with its sparkling seas, olive trees, goats and human inhabitants; and his characteristic mood was a lyric contentment very different from the bleak misanthropy of many of his contemporaries.
Craxton painted prolifically throughout his life and was elected a Royal Academician in 1993. His last London exhibition was at Art First in 2001.