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Keith Vaughan: Romanticism to Abstraction

[ Exhibition )

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

This exhibition marked the centenary of the birth of the British painter Keith Vaughan (1912–1977), best-known for his painterly depictions of the male nude.

Born in the nearby Sussex village of Selsey, Vaughan was one of the most significant artists of his generation. Critics often deem his haunting paintings of figures in the landscape to be an expression of the human condition in the post-war age.

Self-taught as an artist, Vaughan studied at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham before working as a designer for Lintas, the advertising arm of Lever Brothers. This role informed his strong sense of composition that he displays in his art. Although grouped with the ‘Neo-Romantic’ artists during the 1940s, Vaughan was an independent figure in the British art world and an influential tutor at Camberwell School of Art, the Central School of Art and Design and the Slade.

European art and literature had a powerful effect on him, particularly the work of Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse and Nicholas de Staël. We know much of this from his moving journal, in which he frankly recorded his thoughts. His writings discuss art, his homosexuality and his struggles with depression, which tragically led to suicide.

The exhibition included loans from public collections including the Arts Council Collection, Bradford Museums and Galleries, the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, the Government Art Collection, Leicestershire Council Art Collection, the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Southampton City Art Gallery, and Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, as well as many private collections to whom we are indebted. The exhibition was curated by Simon Martin, Director of Pallant House Gallery.

What the press said

Here is a fine painter at his finest – whose pictures, despite their bulk, show humanity at its frailest

Claudia Pritchard, The Independent

If Vaughan never reached the stature of the modern masters he so admired, he certainly took their lessons and made them his own.

Adrian Hamilton, The Independent

Intense and absorbing, this is a fitting retrospective of a formidable English painter.

Richard Moss, Culture24

Want to know more?

If you’re conducting research into this artist or another aspect of Modern British art and would like to use our library and archive, please contact Sarah Norris, Collections Manager on

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