Catalogue entry

P77197 Girl by a Row of Cottages 1948

Monotype 480 × 382 (18 1/8 × 15) on wove paper 612 × 462 (24 1/8 × 18 1/4); printed by ?the artist
Inscribed ‘Keith Vaughan/1948’ below image b.r., ‘Girl by a Row of Cottages Monotype 1948’ b.l.
Purchased from Thomas Agnew and Sons Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1987

This monotype was produced in black ink with a variety of techniques. The spiral shapes above the figure's head, representing the foliage of a tree, are made with the end of a brush. The foreground area has been worked with a sponge. The figure, the row of cottages and the tree are mostly described with bold finger marks. These marks, which show white against the black ground, create a surface patterning, which is further enhanced by stray splashes of ink, such as those on the figure's torso.

P77197 was acquired as ‘Clothed Figure’, although it is inscribed with the title ‘Girl by a Row of Cottages’, which Dr John Ball has confirmed as Vaughan's hand-writing of the 1960s (letter to the compiler dated 21 October 1991 and conversation on 5 November 1991). It is possible that, before Vaughan made his inscription, P77197 was exhibited as ‘Woman by a Cottage’ (see New Paintings by Keith Vaughan, exh. cat., Lefevre Gallery 1948, no.62, and London Painter-Printers, exh. cat., Redfern Gallery 1950, no.229). The demure posture of the figure in P 77197 suggests a stereotypically ‘feminine’ identity, but the figure was probably derived from teenage John McGuinness, Vaughan's principal model at this time (see previous entry). Vaughan rarely drew girls or women and then only with a male figure.

The figure in P77197 is similar to the small body engulfed by undergrowth in another monotype of 1948, ‘Child by a House’ (repr. Keith Vaughan: Prints, Mono-prints, Linocuts and Book Illustration, exh. cat., Austin/ Desmond 1989, p.38, no.6). But in P77197 the figure is placed closer to the viewer, occupying more of the picture so that, despite the rather coy or quizzical stance, he/she seems more assertive. This is emphasised by the radical geometric outlining and organised internal description of the figure, which integrate it more fully with the similarly treated background elements. It is likely that the picture was invented rather than produced in front of the subject (see previous entry). Both rural settings and a sense of the fecundity of nature were as typical of the Neo-Romantic idiom as the sombre churchyard depicted in P77196. However, the sense of formal structure in P77197 suggests a point of departure for Vaughan. This development is also apparent in paintings of the same period, for example, ‘Water Trees and Figures II’, 1948 (repr. Malcolm Yorke, Keith Vaughan: His Life and Work, 1990, p.142).

Vaughan produced eighteen or nineteen monotypes in 1948 which contributed to his development during the late 1940s as a painter of the human figure (see previous entry). Compared with other known monotypes of 1948, P77197 appears more confidently composed, suggesting, perhaps, a greater facility with the medium. P77197 also relates more clearly to Vaughan's preoccupation at this time with the structural relationship between the human figure and the natural environment. Some time in 1948 he prepared a ‘Statement on Painting’ for Michael Rothenstein's book Looking at Paintings. Vaughan's piece was not included when the book was published by Grey Walls in 1949, but the following extract indicates the importance he placed on this subject:

The articulation of the arm-joint in the shoulder is the articulation of the branch in the tree-trunk, and the folds of the shirt round the arm pit are the folds of the bark around the tree joint. Hands are like leaves. The taut, tight curve of the spine is only warmed and more human than the curve of the tree trunk. Each part of the one is interchangeable with the other, yet the harmony is achieved without losing a shred of separate identities, the one a human being, the other a tree in the garden.

It is this sense of tenseness and wholeness which I want to express in my painting: the absolute harmony which results from the simultaneous interdependence and antagonism of objects of different natures; the stability which results from perfect balance of movement.

This paradox is most clearly stated for me in situations which have as their main theme a figure in a landscape. Two entirely complete complex living organisms which, without loss of identity, without sacrificing the essential reality of their natures, have to be reconciled in one whole aesthetic unity ... The problem remains always the same - to put it in technical terms it is to find a form which at one and the same time describes the essential reality of the thing in question and also fulfils its function as a unit in the construction of the painting.

(Yorke 1990, p.143)

P77197 forms part of the artist's endeavour to achieve this aesthetic aim during the late 1940s.

It is likely that Vaughan was encouraged to experiment with monoprinting by the example of younger artists also associated with the Neo-Romantic movement, such as Robert Colquhoun. P77197 was almost certainly printed by the artist in his studio at his home in Hamilton Terrace, London (information supplied by the artist Prunella Clough, friend of Vaughan from the early 1940s, 15 March 1994).

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996