Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)

Born in Selsey, Vaughan attended Christ’s Hospital school. He was employed in an advertising agency until the war when, as an intending conscientious objector, he joined the St John’s Ambulance; in 1941 he was conscripted into the Non-Combatant Corps. Vaughan was self-taught as an artist. His first exhibitions took place during the war. In 1942 he was stationed at Ashton Gifford, near Codford in Wiltshire.

Also during the war Vaughan formed friendships with the painters Graham Sutherland and John Minton, with whom he shared a studio after demobilisation in 1946. Through these contacts he formed part of the neo-romantic circle of the immediate post-war period. However, Vaughan rapidly developed an idiosyncratic style which moved him away from the neo-romantics. Focusing on male figures, his work became increasingly abstract.

Vaughan taught at the Camberwell College of Art, the Central School of Art and latterly at the Slade School.

Vaughan is known for his journals, selections from which were published in 1966 and more extensively in 1989, after his death. As a rather private man, troubled by his sexuality, he is known largely through these journals. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1975 and committed suicide in 1977, recording his last moments in his diary as the drugs overdose took effect.

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977), Achaeans, 1960


Gouache on board
12½ x 11in (31.7 x 28 cm)
Signed and dated verso Keith Vaughan, 1960

Collections: With Bear Lane Gallery, Oxford, 1960; where purchased by J.A.P. Parkhouse; with the Redfern Gallery, 1964; where purchased by Prestons Art Gallery; where sold to Dr. J.N. Ball, December 1964; Professor Ronald Pickvance.
Exhibited: The Whitechapel Gallery, London, Keith Vaughan, 1962 (272), lent by J. Parkhouse.

Vaughan travelled to Greece during the early 1960s and recorded the simple pleasures of his time there in his journals:
‘… All days the same. Stillness and heat and the sea like distilled water… Ouzo at the harbour in the evening… Brown boys and pink boats loaded with dark green melons. Fish suppers on the terrace overlooking the grey pistachio trees…’
In the present painting the deep blue surroundings evoke the colours of the Mediterranean but the title, referring to the two figures, suggests both Vaughan’s interest in the ancient history of Greece but also - as was his lifelong preoccupation in his painting - the relationship of the figure to a place or landscape. Achaeans are the inhabitants of Achaea in Greece, the northernmost region of the Peloponnese, occupying the coastal strip north of Arcadia. In 1960 Vaughan took a tour of the Peloponnesus; in his journals he mentions ‘Corinth - Nauplia - Epidaurus - Mycenae - Tiryns’, and specifically the ‘clear layers of Greek, Roman and Byzantium building’ in Corinth and the ‘grand’ setting of Mycenae, ‘the gate whence Agamemnon set forth to conquer Troy’.

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