Keith Vaughan

Figure in a Churchyard


Not on display

Keith Vaughan 1912–1977
Relief print on paper
Image: 480 × 380 mm
Purchased 1987

Catalogue entry

P77196 Figure in a Churchyard 1948

Monotype 480 × 380 (18 7/8 × 15) on machine-made paper 525 × 460 (20 5/8 × 18 1/8); printed by? the artist
Inscribed ‘Keith Vaughan/1948’ below image b.r. and ‘Figure in a Churchyard - Monotype 1948’ along left edge
Purchased from Thomas Agnew and Sons Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1987

In this monotype depicting a figure against a dark background, Vaughan has used a wide range of methods for working ink over the plate. He defined the legs of the figure with his fingers, while the shoulders, neck and ear were made with a pointed instrument, probably the end of a paintbrush, or even a knife. Parts of the body and the background were textured with a rag and some other soft material, possibly a sponge. The image shows as white where the black ink was removed.

P77196 was acquired as ‘Standing Figure by a Fence’, although the artist's inscription states that the figure is more specifically in a churchyard. A barely visible arched-shaped window behind the figure combined with a background of dark forbidding trees suggest a churchyard setting. However, the figure may well be standing in the grounds of some country house or rectory garden since these were more often the settings chosen by Vaughan in the mid to late 1940s (see, for example, ‘The Rectory Garden’, 1944, repr. Malcolm Yorke, Keith Vaughan: His Life and Work, 1990, pl.3, and ‘Deserted House in Park’, 1946, repr. Keith Vaughan: Retrospective Exhibition, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery 1962, pl.VI). Dr John Ball, an executor of the Vaughan estate, has authenticated the inscription as in the artist's hand, thus confirming the title as ‘Figure in a Church-yard’, although he believes it to have been added by Vaughan some time in the late 1960s (letter to the compiler dated 21 October 1991 and conversation on 5 November 1991).

P77196 relates in subject matter to English Neo-Romanticism of the 1940s. In particular, the theme of the churchyard refers to the work of John Piper, acclaimed for his depictions of the wartime blight of England's architectural heritage (see John Betjeman, John Piper, Harmondsworth 1944). Vaughan and a number of his contemporaries were particularly influenced by the Neo-Romantic landscapes of Graham Sutherland, who established his reputation during the 1940s. Between 1946 and 1949 Vaughan, like most of the younger generation Neo-Romantics, attempted to shed Sutherland's influence. In December 1945 the Victoria and Albert Museum held an exhibition of works by Picasso and Matisse. This exhibition influenced Vaughan's decision to focus on the figure rather than the landscape, and to tackle oil painting seriously for the first time. Vaughan's monotypes of 1948, the first and only year in which he concentrated on this type of picture-making, played an important role in these developments.

P77196 and ‘Girl by a Row of Cottages’ (P77197) belong to a group of at least eighteen or nineteen monotypes executed by Vaughan in 1948. These were documented in November 1977 by Dr Ball, who made an inventory of works remaining in Vaughan's studio after his death. All of the monotypes depict the human, particularly the male, figure. Six were included in an exhibition of New Paintings and Drawings by Keith Vaughan at the Lefevre Gallery in December 1948. Most, however, have not been reproduced, and it is not clear, therefore, whether a work has been exhibited under different titles. Thus, ‘Figure in a Churchyard’ is probably the same work that was exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery as ‘Nude in a Churchyard’, since the latter was not in the studio and has not been traced elsewhere. The monotypes, not previously listed, are as follows (measurements are given in inches): ‘Boy’, 15 1/4 × 11; ‘Boy in a Landscape’, 20 1/2 × 18 1/2 (repr. as poster for the exhibition Keith Vaughan, Hatten Gallery, Newcastle, March 1956); ‘Child by a House’, 12 3/8 × 8 3/4; (repr. Keith Vaughan, exh. cat., Austin/Desmond 1989, p.38, no.6); ‘Figure’, 10 × 11 7/8; ‘Figure’, 18 × 13 1/2; ‘Figure in a Churchyard’ (possibly the same as ‘Nude in a Churchyard’, see below) 19 × 15 1/4; ‘Figure Holding a Tree Branch’, 19 × 15 (not in studio); ‘Figure Leaning on a Garden Wall’, 19 × 15 1/4; ‘Figure and Tree Forms I’, 19 × 15 (Lefevre Gallery exh. cat., 1948, no.63, not in studio); ‘Figure and Tree Forms II’, 19 1/8 × 15 1/4 (ibid., no.64); ‘Foreshore with Figures by a Boat I’ 15 1/2 × 19 (ibid., no.59); ‘Foreshore with Figures by a Boat II’, 15 3/8 × 19; ‘Girl by a Row of Cottages’, 19 1/8 × 15 1/4; ‘Landscape with Figure I’, 19 × 15 (Whitechapel Art Gallery exh. cat., 1962, no.98); ‘Landscape with Figure II’, 19 × 15 (ibid., no.99); ‘Nude in a Churchyard’ (possibly the same as ‘Figure in a Churchyard’, see above, 19 × 15 (Lefevre Gallery exh. cat., 1948, no.61), not in studio; ‘Seated Figure’, 19 1/4 × 15 1/8 (Whitechapel Art Gallery exh. cat., 1962, no.97); ‘Two Figures’, 15 × 12 1/4; ‘Woman by a Cottage’, 19 × 15 (Lefevre Gallery exh. cat., 1948, no.62), not in studio.

The techniques used to apply ink in P77196 are also evident in a number of the other monotypes. These include P77197, ‘Figure with Extended Arms’, 1948, ‘Foreshore with Figures by a Boat’, 1948 (repr. Avant-Garde British Printmaking, exh. cat., British Museum 1990, pp.170–1, nos.151–2) and ‘Child by a House’. Monotype printing allows for great technical and expressive freedom, as the ink or other medium must be rapidly applied so that an impression can be taken before it dries. This process encouraged Vaughan to make confident marks, to simplify the subject into a more schematic or abstract relation of shapes, lines and tones. In P77196, for example, the planks of the fence stand out in bold contrast with the murky shadows and echo the lines used to describe the solidity of the nude male figure. This device, more pronounced in P77197 and ‘Figure with Extended Arms’, creates a formal link between the figure and environment. This approach was already taking place in Vaughan's numerous figure drawings executed in 1947 and 1948. For example, ‘Study for Painting’, undated (repr. Penguin New Writing, no.33, 1948, p.96), shows the reduction of the body to its structural parts in a manner similar to that used in P77196.

‘Figure in a Churchyard’, like ‘Girl by a Row of Cottages’ (P77197, see following entry), was almost certainly printed by the artist in his studio at his home in Hamilton Terrace, London (information supplied by the artist Prunella Clough, a friend of Vaughan from the early 1940s, 15 March 1994).

This process of simplification also occurred in Vaughan's paintings at this time, particularly in terms of composition. In P77196 for example, the placing of the figure and the basic structure of the composition parallel that of Vaughan's painting, ‘A Man and his House’, also of 1948 (repr. Whitechapel Art Gallery exh. cat., 1962, no.90, pl.xx). However, he seems to have maintained a stylistic distinction between oil paintings and works on paper. On the whole, the oils of 1948 are painted in a controlled, angular post-cubist style (see, for example, ‘Interior with Figures at a Table’ and ‘Water Trees and Figures II’, repr. Keith Vaughan: Images of Man, exh. cat., Geffrye Museum 1981, pp.22, 25, nos.7, 9a), rather than in the more fluid manner of the monotypes and gouaches.

The figure in P77196 was undoubtedly derived from Vaughan's studies of seventeen-year-old John McGuinness, who was Vaughan's main model at this time. They met in 1948 through Vaughan's former lover Harold Colebrook. Vaughan invited McGuinness to London where he became Vaughan's house-boy and clandestine lover. McGuinness's particularly rounded head and flattened nose provided Vaughan with strong elemental features that were compatible with his aim to simplify and concentrate on structure, rather than surface detail. These features are more clearly recogniseable in a drawing of McGuinness, ‘Seated Boy in a Landscape’, 1948 (repr. Yorke 1990, p.134). This drawing emphasises his large workmanlike hands, also discernible in P 77196 and P 77197, while the hatching used to describe body and background are translated into the rapid marks which define the figure in the monotypes.

Michael Yorke (1990, p.133) has noted that in 1948 Vaughan had access for the first time to nude male models both at home, because of his liason with McGuinness, and at work. In 1948 Vaughan moved from Camberwell School of Art, where he had taught illustration from the time of his demobilisation in 1946, to the Central School of Art, to teach painting as well as illustration. Vaughan did not, however, make a habit of painting from life since he found it difficult to focus on both model and canvas. Presumably, this was also true of the monotypes which seem to have provided the artist with a bridge between drawing or working in gouache, and oil painting.

The fusion of a figure or group of figures within an environment, which seems to have developed as a major theme in Vaughan's work by the end of 1948, has been seen by some writers as his main achievement. Reviewing Vaughan's retrospective exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in 1962, Edwin Mullins observed that: ‘From about 1949 Vaughan became a mature artist. Suddenly his pictures hang together...His nudes, instead of being “male figures in a landscape”, become an inseparable part of that landscape’ (E. Mullins, ‘Vaughan Reconsidered’, Apollo, 1962, vol.76, p.218). In the same article Mullins also noted a shift in Vaughan's work from an emphasis on landscape to an ‘intense physical feeling for the human body’.

Vaughan was almost certainly encouraged to make monotypes by a number of his contemporaries who were also attracted to this method of printing (see British Museum exh. cat., 1990, p.170). It is likely that Robert Colquhoun played a particularly influential role, given his meteoric rise to fame from around 1946. Vaughan met Colquhoun and his partner Robert MacBryde in 1946, if not before, probably through John Minton. In that year Colquhoun experimented with monotypes. They were exhibited at the Lefevre Gallery in 1947 along with recent paintings which showed the influence monoprint technique (Robert Colquhoun: Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints 1942–1958, exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery 1958, p.9). The prints were as critically acclaimed as the paintings. Commercial printing presses did not accommodate monoprinting at this time, and so, like his friends Colquhoun and McBryde it seems likely that Vaughan himself printed P77196 in his studio at his home in Hamilton Terrace, London (information supplied by the artist Prunella Clough, 15 March 1994).

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

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