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), Study for the Fourth Assembly of Figures (Transfiguration Group), 1952


7¾ x 7¾ in (20 x 20 cm)
Signed and dated 1952

Vaughan’s Assembly of Figures series which span from 1952 to 1976 lie at the heart of his achievement. The nine large pictures (six of which are in museums) in the words of the artist in an article in The Studio in 1958, “rely on the assumption (hard to justify perhaps, but none the less real to me) that the human figure, the nude, is still a valid symbol for the expression of man’s aspirations and reactions to the life of his time. No longer incorporated in the church or any codified system of belief, the Assemblies are deprived of literary significance or illustrative meaning. The participants have not assembled for any particular purpose such as a virgin birth, martyrdom, or inauguration of a new power station. In so far as their activity is aimless and their assembly pointless they might be said to symbolize an age of doubt as against an age of faith. But that is not the point. Although the elements are recognizably human their meaning is plastic”.

This is a study for the Fourth Assembly and the completed picture is now in the Nottingham City Museum. We are grateful to Anthony Hepworth for pointing out that the drawing’s original title was Blue Assembly of Figures.

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