Nicholas Egon, 1921-2017
Posted on 28/04/2017
It is with sadness that we announce the death of Nicholas Egon, FKC, an artist of international distinction and generous benefactor to the Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s. Nicholas died on 25 April 2017 at the age of 95.
Nicholas was born in 1921 at Brno – in what is now the Czech Republic – to aristocratic parents, and grew up at the family home of Castle Vranov. He had no formal education but was fluent in Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian (his mother tongue), German and French. Later, he added English, and enrolled at Birkbeck College, University of London, shortly after arriving in the UK at the age of 17. Nicholas became a self-taught artist, working largely at the British Museum.
Distinguished career as an artist
In 1940 he was commissioned as an official war artist, first with the Czech army, then posted with the British army to Basra. After the war he taught at Sir John Cass College and gave weekly lectures at the National Gallery, and in 1947 was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Art.
Nicholas' first experience of Greece came in 1949, when he was taken by the United Nations Special Committee on the Balkans (UNSCOB) to capture scenes from the final battles of the Greek Civil War. In one episode he recalled waving at retreating Communist troops from the top of a captured defence post; years later, he recounted the anecdote at a diplomatic dinner, to meet the reply, ‘So you were the bastard waving from the top!’
After the war, Nicholas made his name as a portrait painter, particularly of Middle Eastern royalty. Later, from the 1970s, he specialised as a watercolourist depicting landscapes, first in Jordan and during the last thirty years in Greece.
Nicholas and Matti Egon, 2013. Photo by Katerina Kalogeraki
A love of Greece and Hellenic culture
In 1978, he married Matti (Matrona) Xylas, who comes from a long tradition of Greek ship-owners and charitable donors. The couple made their home in Greece and both became enthusiastic and generous patrons of many individuals and organisations committed to the study and promotion of Hellenic culture of all historical periods.
In 1989 Nicholas gave inspirational support to the newly founded Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s. He instituted the annual Runciman lecture at King’s, named in honour of his old friend and historian of Byzantium and the Crusades, Sir Steven Runciman, one of the most eloquent historians of the twentieth century, with a gift for bringing the results of original scholarship to a broad public. This tradition is maintained in these lectures, which each year bring a capacity audience to the Great Hall, and have been sponsored in perpetuity by Nicholas and Matti, who survives him.
To find out more about the Runciman lectures, please visit the Centre for Hellenic Studies website.