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#ArtDept: The World of British Artist, Keith Vaughan



Photograph of Vaughan by Francis Goodman, 1947, National Portrait Gallery Archives

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) was a fascinating, talented British artist. He was a conscientious objector at the start of WW II, and he joined Ambulance Corps as his service.

Vaughan was entirely self-taught as an artist. His first exhibitions took place during the war.

During the war Vaughan formed close friendships with gay painters Graham Sutherland and John Minton; after the war the three of them set up house together. They were part of the Neo-Romantic circle of the post-war period. However, Vaughan developed an idiosyncratic style which moved him away from the Neo-Romantics. Concentrating on studies of male figures, his works became increasingly abstract.

Vaughan is also known for his photographs and for his journals where he writes about his art and his gayness, selections from which were published in 1966 and the rest after his death. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1975 and took his own life in 1977 in London, recording his last moments in his diary as the drug overdose took effect.

A Vaughan oil on canvas sold for $424,500 at Sotheby’s in 2009. It was previously in the collection of Sir Richard Attenborough, who bought it in 1967.

Figure Against a Blue Background (1957)

Standing Figure (1960)

Cain and Abel (1946)

Leaping Figure (1951)

Ninth Assembly of Figures (Eldorado Banal) (1976)

Small Assembly of Figures (1951)

The Trial (1956)

Rose Bathers (1959)

When he was 19-years-old, Vaughan joined the London advertising agency Lintas as a layout artist, and he left when he was 27 to become a painter. Vaughan’s interest in photography started at Lintas where he was encouraged to purchase the best pocket camera, a German Leica 35mm. He set up his own darkroom which allowed him to experiment with male portrait and nude photography, which might have gotten him arrested at the time. After his passing, a group of his postcard-sized prints were found in a cardboard box. These are photographs of his male friends who accompanied him to the beach in the summers between 1935 and 1939, seen at rest or at play, naked or near-naked in the abandoned harbor or in their beach hut, a converted railway carriage.

In contrast to his paintings, the photographs reflect a different source of inspiration: the work of contemporary photographers of the male body by George Hoyningen-Huene, George Platt Lynes and Herbert List.

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