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), Bather, 1958


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Canvas, 22¾ x 16½ in (56.5 x 41 cm)
Signed and inscribed on reverse

Collections: Bought directly from the artist for £115 by Dr Harwood Stevenson; Mrs Elizabeth Corob

Literature: A.Hepworth and I.Massey Keith Vaughan, The Mature Oils 2012 (269)

Exhibited: Mattheisen Gallery,1960 (44); Whitechapel Art Gallery Keith Vaughan 1962 (232-lent by Harwood Stevenson)

This is one in a magnificent series of Bathers Vaughan made at the height of his career which are now considered central to his achievement. The present picture, in particular,represents Vaughan at his most Cezannesque and demonstrates his rich sense of colour. Vaughan wrote that’’ If one uses the image of a human figure one must start by making it erotic-because that’s the first thing that strikes you about it. But the erotic image soon ceases to be human and you paint the eroticism out. You don’t just castrate it with mock decencies but transport it into the flat plastic language of form and colour which has its own needs and limitations ‘’ (P.Vann and G.Hastings Keith Vaughan 2012 p.18).

Gerard Hastings writes of the present picture that’’ despite his youth and obvious athleticism, the subject remains unsteady, awkward and unsure of himself. Nevertheless, his remoteness and removal from any identifying landmarks and other figures lends him a distinctly monumental presence. Far from being a heroic representation of the human form this bather conveys a quality of defencelessness and introspection’’.
The picture was formerly in the collection of Elizabeth Corob well known for her friendship and patronage of artists such as David Hockney, Patrick Procktor and Bryan Organ.

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