Craxton was born in London, the son of the composer Harold Craxton. Considered a prodigy as a youngster (he held his first public exhibition at the age of ten), he studied in Paris until the outbreak of war, when he returned to London and attended both the Central School of Art and Goldsmiths. He became friendly with Peter Watson, an influential patron of the arts and subsequently a co-founder of the ICA. Watson introduced him to Lucian Freud and in the mid 1940s Craxton became identified with ‘neo-romanticism’, a wartime tendency involving a heightened and rather graphic response to the English landscape. In 1943, he toured Pembrokeshire with Graham Sutherland , who was then working as an official war artist recording the war effort in the mines of Cornwall and Wales. After the war, Craxton travelled extensively in Europe, visiting Greece in 1946 with Lucian Freud with whom he held a joint exhibition at the London Gallery the following year. Known throughout his life as a neo-Romantic, Craxton himself preferred to be known as an ‘Arcadian’, a nod perhaps to the rather bucolic dreamworld he inhabited, and which peoples his work. A major retrospective of his work was held at the Whitechapel in 1967.