John Keith Vaughan, more commonly known as Keith Vaughan, was a British self-taught painter active in the early-mid twentieth century. A conscientious objector during the Second World War, Vaughan joined the St John Ambulance, and formed friendships with painters Graham Sutherland and John Minton, with whom he shared premises when the war ended.
Through these key 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. Concentrating on studies of male figures, his works became increasingly abstract, and he became known for his tender depictions of the male form. Troubled by his own homosexuality, at a time when it was criminalised in England, it was through his art and his journals, that he was able to explore this side of his existence.
Zuleika Gallery’s exhibition Keith Vaughan – Works on Paper presents works from the collection of the Late John Constable, and features over 40 works, including a full set of lithographs, alongside wartime drawings and watercolours. The exhibition shows his breadth as a daughtsman and includes several sketches made during the war. Soldiers Marching (1944) depicts the Eden Camp near Malton in North Yorkshire where Vaughan transferred in 1943 from Bulford Camp in Wiltshire. The camp’s Nissen huts can clearly be viewed in the background of this powerful drawing.
Pictured above: Keith Vaughan, Blue Boy (1949), colour lithograph on wove paper, 18 x 12 ins with margins
Of the eight original lithographs that Vaughan made between 1949-1953, comparatively little is known. Except for some copies of Figure and Boat (1949), all are signed and dated but, curiously, none are numbered. As Professor Gerard Hastings explains, “during the 1940s and 50s edition sizes often went unrecorded by both artists and galleries. While this may seem out of character for Vaughan, given that his studio records are otherwise impeccable, it is indicative of the prevailing ambivalence towards printmaking. The general agreement among print dealers and collectors is that around fifty prints were produced of each of Vaughan’s lithographs along with, perhaps, a further ten proofs. However, since none are numbered and few records exist, this remains speculation.”
He continues to explain, “by contrast, the art of lithography had, for some time, been held in high esteem on the continent. It had been developed and advanced not so much by specialized graphic artist, but by painters. In France, for example, Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard and Vuillard were leading exponents at the end of the nineteenth century and Braque and Picasso carried on the tradition. Painter-printers in Britain followed suit, bringing to lithography invention and originality, at times, borne out of inexperience. When it came to working with process and the production of multiple images, it was lithography to which Vaughan turned his attention since the required skills were essentially those used in watercolour painting and drawing.”
Keith Vaughan: Works on Paper also includes the series of eight lithographs for Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell (1949). These were originally published as book plates for a translation by Norman Cameron of Rimbaud’s epic poem. Each work incorporates handwritten lines in French from Rimbaud’s original text representing Vaughan’s complete contribution to the book.
Finally, the exhibition includes some works in gouache and drawings on paper, including Assembly of Figures (1975). Of a similar work in Tate Britain called Small Assembly of Figures, Vaughan writes “The purposefully non-committal title ‘Assembly’ is intended to suggestion, as were, an echo of humanist tradition without any longer making reference to any actual historical or mythological themes”.
Keith Vaughan: Works on Paper runs until 27 February.