Man in a Cave, 1943, Gouache and ink on paper, Private collection, courtesy Osborne Samuel Gallery, London © The Estate of Keith Vaughan. All rights reserved, DACS 2012
During the Second World War Vaughan was a conscientious objector, and served with the Pioneer Corps, recording his experiences in his journals and in ink and gouache drawings. He was not appointed an Official War Artist, but was included in exhibitions of war art as well as writing contributions for 'Penguin New Writing' and illustrating numerous literary anthologies. His work drew on themes from literature such as the poetry of Homer and Arthur Rimbaud, presenting poetic responses to the horrors of war and a refuge in nature. The figure in the landscape became a key theme in Vaughan's work, and he came to be seen as a leading figure in the group of artists dubbed the 'Neo-Romantics', which included Graham Sutherland, John Piper, John Minton, Michael Ayrton, Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde.
In the late 1940s Vaughan's work explored the alienation of the post-war years, painting psychologically intense groups of figures in room settings which were to lead to his large format figure paintings of the 1950s and 1960s.