Crowd Assembling I is the first of two canvases that Vaughan painted in 1967 on the theme of a jostling crowd. It is related to his series of nine ‘Assembly’ paintings but subtly different in form and intention. The idea had been fermenting in his imagination for some time since three years before he painted it he wrote about his desire to tackle the subject:
'I would like to be able to paint a crowd – that abstract entity referred to by the sociologists as the masses. An amorphous compressed lump of impermanent shape reacting as a mass to environmental stimuli yet composed of isolated human egos retaining their own separate, incommunicable identities. In the past artists have usually dealt with the problem of crowds by turning them into assemblies. Assemblies are orderly rhythmic groups of individuals which act and are acted upon by mutual consent. The behaviour of an assembly is at least compatible with that of any member composing it and often surpasses him in achievement. The behaviour of a crowd follows its own laws and generates its own energy. It is inferior, humanly speaking, to any one member composing it and usually acts contrary to his interests, and can even accomplish his destruction.' (K. Vaughan quoted in Some Notes on Painting, August 1964).
Professor John Ball and Dr. Gordon Hargreaves, friends and major collectors of the artist, viewed Crowd Assembling I in Vaughan’s studio soon after he completed it. They purchased it in a private sale, and he went on to produce a second version (Crowd Assembling II) which was exhibited in a major exhibition at Marlborough Fine Art in 1968. Ball wrote to Vaughan, concerned that the same title as their painting appeared in the exhibition catalogue. He replied,
'9 Belsize Park, NW3
I’m glad you & Gordon enjoyed the Marlborough show & it was good of you to go to the trouble of coming down specially. I have in fact got the Crowd Assembly marked on the canvas as #2, but there seemed to be no point in putting that in the catalogue only to provoke the obvious question “Where is #1”, so there won’t be any confusion in years to come (?). If you would like to add #1 to your canvas, by all means do. I have it thus entered in my records. With all good wishes for the New Year & I hope to see you again soon. As ever, Keith.'
Having lived with Crowd Assembling I in their collection for a while, Ball and Hargreaves discovered a small area of paint which they considered to be unresolved. They pointed out the offending passage to Vaughan who immediately agreed with their assessment and took the picture back in exchange for another. After his death in 1977 they decided to repurchase the painting from the artist’s estate since a slight modification to it had been made while it had been in the artist’s possession. They were completely satisfied by the new, resolved version which was hung alongside the First, Sixth, Seventh and Nineth Assembly paintings in their collection.
We are very grateful to Gerard Hastings, whose forthcoming book Keith Vaughan: The Graphic Art, is soon to be published by Pagham Press, for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.