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Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)

The Onlooker

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)
The Onlooker
gouache, Indian ink and wax pastel
9 1/8 x 7 3/8 in. (23.2 x 18.8 cm.)
Executed circa 1974.
with Austin Desmond, where purchased by the present owner in March 1988.
London, New Grafton Gallery, Keith Vaughan: drawings and paintings, April 1987, no. 72.
Sunninghill, Berkshire, Austin Desmond Fine Art, Keith Vaughan: paintings, gouaches, watercolours and drawings 1936-1976, April 1987.
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.

Lot Essay

Several of Vaughan’s works of this period possess titles that at first seem puzzling. The on-looker here can be identified as the pale, almost ghost-like figure suggested at the upper right, gazing towards the foreground group. His unexplained separation and isolation from the others (something that Vaughan frequently experienced), creates the emotional tension within the composition.

Vaughan’s finest gouache decade was perhaps the 1960s when he produced numerous first-rate paintings in rapid succession. He made further technical breakthroughs in terms of handling his gouache with greater eloquence and determining his compositions with renewed confidence. The character of his paint became increasingly fluid and his touch more assured; the rigidity of the densely applied paintings of the 1950s gave way to a fresher and more articulate technique. (Gerard Hastings, Keith Vaughan, Lund Humphries (2012), Van and Hastings, p. 168.)

These words certainly apply to the present work; the handling of the pigment is fluid and eloquent. Gouache suited both Vaughan’s creative temperament and working method. It is a very immediate medium since it dries rapidly and, as a consequence, fosters speedy progress and spontaneous management. He wrote in his journal, ‘I start, as usual, with no more than a process. The making of a series of wet marks across a white board in a sequence of colours…. and see where it leads.’ (Keith Vaughan, Journal, July 2, 1972). Vaughan is economical with his palette; only yellow, blue and burnt umber are employed, along with black and white, to achieve a highly expressive effect. The opacity of certain pigments is played off against the translucence of others and his characteristically frothy textures are apparent. The mark-making has the freshness of an improvisation. Vaughan explained his approach to painting in his journal: ‘I seem to be purposefully trying to make a composition of mutual contradictions. Figures which aren’t figures, landscape space which is something else, shapes which are neither abstract nor figurative…. What am I doing and why?... Certainly I am following a scent, but it is buried and extremely irrational.’ (Keith Vaughan, Journal, November 27, 1957).

We are very grateful to Gerard Hastings for his assistance in cataloguing the present lot. Gerard Hastings is the author of Drawing to a Close: the Final Journals of Keith Vaughan, Pagham Press, 2012, and Keith Vaughan: The Photographs, Pagham Press, 2013.

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