10 March – 10 June 2012
Pallant House Gallery in Chichester is delighted to present a new exhibition to mark the centenary of the birth of the British painter Keith Vaughan (1912-1977). Born in the nearby Sussex village of Selsey, Vaughan was one of the most significant artists of his generation, best-known for his painterly depictions of the male nude in the landscape.
The exhibition will chart the development of the artist's work from his early beach scenes of the 1930s and the romanticism of his wartime illustrations for poetry and literature, to his painterly depictions of the male figure and landscapes and his later move towards abstraction. Featuring drawings, studies and major paintings from across his career, it will provide a comprehensive overview of the artist's life and work.
Largely self-taught, Vaughan began his career in advertising before turning to painting. The first section of the exhibition explores Vaughan's early experimentation with the figure in landscape settings such as at Pagham Beach in Sussex in ‘Beach with Bathers' (c.1938) and paintings such as ‘Night in the Streets of the City' (1943) which presents a moment of tenderness amidst the devastation of the Second World War.
During the war Vaughan met and was greatly influenced by Graham Sutherland, John Minton, and Robert Colquhoun. His subsequent illustrations for the poetry of Rimbaud, and literary compilations such as ‘Penguin New Writing' and ‘Orpheus' led him to become a leading figure in the so-called ‘Neo-Romantic' circle of the 1940s (examples of which are featured in the show).
In his post-war paintings, Vaughan looked beyond the English romantic tradition to the example of the European modernists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse, and later Nicholas de Stäel, rapidly developing an experimental and painterly style which bridged abstraction and figuration. The exhibition includes his study for the central mural in the Dome of Discovery at the 1951 Festival of Britain which develops the theme of the figure in the landscape that was to be a central to his work.
The second section of the exhibition brings together a group of Vaughan's paintings of the male nude such as ‘Neopolitan Bathers' (1951) and ‘A Group of Bathers' (1962) in which the artist continues the grand tradition of figurative painting with expressive use of oil paint. Vaughan's employment of homo-erotic subject matter reflects his own sexuality, which was often discussed with great frankness in his remarkable journals. Later paintings such as ‘Standing Figure - Kouros' (1960) and ‘Musicians at Marrakesh' (1966-70) are informed by Vaughan's travels to Greece and Morocco.
In later years his images became highly abstracted although the starting point was always representation and natural forms. In 1968 he wrote of his efforts to ‘make something at once very real and very abstract...the human figure as an abstract element, like a musical chord.' The final section of the exhibition explores the relationship between landscape and abstraction from the 1950s to the 1970s, in which Vaughan employed blocks of paint to experiment with structure and formal concerns, reflecting his prevailing attempts to " pare away the inessentials until the subject matter becomes irrelevant." (Keith Vaughan 1976).
Vaughan's reputation reached its height in the late 1950s and early 1960s, culminating in a retrospective at the Whitechapel in 1962 at which Director Bryan Robertson said Vaughan's ‘brilliantly realised gifts would find their place among some of the best work done in the country in the twentieth century'. Yet, despite considerable success, including the award of a CBE in 1965, Vaughan became increasingly melancholic and reclusive in later life and eventually committed suicide in 1977. Poignantly, he recorded his last moments in his journal as the drugs overdose took effect.
Simon Martin, Head of Curatorial Services at Pallant House Gallery says: "Although Vaughan has widely been hailed as one of the leading figures of the so-called ‘Neo-Romantic' group, in his later paintings he transcended this context through his powerful and painterly depictions of the male form which formed metaphors for the wider human condition. We are delighted to be presenting Vaughan's work in his Centenary year in the area where he was born.'