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Musicians at Marrakesh, Keith Vaughan

Abstracted male figures sit in groups of two or threes.

Keith Vaughan, Musicians at Marrakesh, 1966-70, Oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Pallant House Gallery from the Estate of Professor John Ball, 2011) © The Estate of Keith Vaughan. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

At a glance

Artist: Keith Vaughan

Date: 1966 – 1970

Materials: Oil on canvas

Acquisition: Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to Pallant House Gallery from the Estate of Professor John Ball (2011)


This group of figures was painted by Keith Vaughan whilst he was travelling through Morocco in 1965 with his close friend Patrick Woodcock. Vaughan kept a journal recording his experiences which evoke the sensory richness of the landscape. The scene is inspired by observations he made of the lively markets, the intense colours, and groups of musicians playing traditional Berber music. The colours are restrained and the forms within the painting are flat, mimicking the appearance of the Arabic djellaba, a robe that is worn by both men and women in North Africa.

The canopies of fabric in the background are a reference to the spiritual rituals of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. Woodcock had taken Vaughan to one of these ceremonies and the experience has been translated into this painting. The figure in the foreground, sitting with his back to the viewer on a slab of ochre, was described by Vaughan as a self-portrait. Vaughan saw himself at the peripheries of life, often identifying himself as the separated figure from the group in his paintings.

Keith Vaughan was born in Selsey in 1912. He was a self-taught painter, having worked at an advertising agency up until the Second World War. He had his first exhibitions during the war and formed friendships with fellow artists Graham Sutherland and John Minton, becoming associated with Neo-Romantic circles. His work then became increasingly abstract, using groups of figures (which he called ‘assemblies’), in order to experiment with ways of representing the male body. He is also known for his candid journals which record his reflections on his art, his sexuality and his struggles with cancer. He died by intentional overdose in 1977.

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