- Keith Vaughan
- Interior with Nude Figures
- oil on canvas
- 71 by 91.5cm.; 28 by 36in.
- Executed in 1949.
Julian Lax, London, where acquired by the present owner circa 2000
Sheffield, Mappin Gallery, Keith Vaughan: Memorial Exhibition, 1977, cat. no.2;
London, Austin/Desmond Fine Art, Keith Vaughan, 21st November - 19th December 1989, cat. no.47, illustrated p.18;
London, Thomas Agnew & Sons, Keith Vaughan 1912-1977, 14th November - 14th December 1990, cat. no.13;
London, Julian Lax, Keith Vaughan: a collection of paintings, gouaches, drawings and lithographs, 14th November – 10th December 2000, cat. no.22, illustrated.
Anthony Hepworth and Ian Massey, Keith Vaughan: The Mature Oils 1946-1977, a Commentary and Catalogue Raisonné, Sansom & Company Ltd, Bristol, 2012, cat. no.AH83, illustrated p.61.
‘At a time when many artists are so overwhelmed by reality – as well as the pressures of art history - that they take refuge in total abstraction, almost involuntarily, we should be grateful for the human belief and the ethical courage of this artist. His patience and conviction, and his brilliantly realized gifts, will certainly find their place among some of the best work done in this country in the twentieth century’ (Bryan Robertson, Keith Vaughan: Retrospective Exhibition, Whitechapel Gallery, London, March - April 1962, p.5).
Interior with Nude Figures is part of a small series of paintings Vaughan completed between 1948 and 1951 which focus on individual or small groups of nude male figures set within domestic settings. Painted in a newly sculptural manner with an austere subtle colour palette and a formal compositional arrangement, the series marked for Vaughan a move away from the neo-romantic gouaches that had occupied him for much of the 1940s, at which time he was particularly influenced by the work of Graham Sutherland and William Blake, and towards the Cubism and pictorial simplification of Post-Impressionists. As he stated in 1948:
‘Greater awareness of potentialities and weaknesses – the transparency of form triumphs, solutions to most of the main technical problems and a clearer view of the real goal. Return of interest to the French – Cézanne and Picasso and away from the Blake, Palmer, Sutherland movement’ (Keith Vaughan, Journal, 24th February 1948, reproduced in Anthony Hepworth and Ian Massey, Keith Vaughan: The Mature Oils 1946-1977, a Commentary and Catalogue Raisonné, Sansom & Company Ltd, Bristol, 2012, p.15).
Vaughan was fascinated by an exhibition of Picasso and Matisse’s work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1945, which had also greatly affected Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde, two Scottish painters Vaughan was close to during this period. The impact of this increasing awareness of modern European painting trends can certainly be felt in the present work, with the Matisse like delineation of the figures set against a background of simplified geometric planes of colour. The composition is essentially divided between the monumental figures on the one side, and the still life vignette set atop an upturned table - the effect of the light streaming in from the window dividing the table into two rectilinear forms. The abstracted jug and candle are particularly reminiscent of Picasso’s Jug, Candle and Enamel Pan (1945, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris) and Still Life with Lamp (1944, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris), and the candle motif reappears several times throughout the series, including in his Interior with Nude (fig.1, 1949-51, sold in these rooms, The Eye of the Collector: Works from the Collection of Stanley J Seeger, 14th June 2001).
Particularly drawn to the dramatic and the theatrical, Vaughan was from a young age a passionate enthusiast of the ballet and was an avid reader of not only an eclectic array of English texts, but also volumes in French and German. He would often draw on such influences, and his series of domestic scenes are rooted in a range of literary and theatrical themes, from the classically inspired Theseus and the Minotaur (1950, painted for the Festival of Britain in 1951, sold in these rooms, A Life in Pictures: The Collection of Lord and Lady Attenborough, 11th November 2009), whose title comes from a novel by André Gide, to The Trial (1950, Worthing Art Gallery), which draws on a short story by Franz Kafka, to The Return of the Prodigal Son (1950, Private Collection), whose title is a reference to the Diaghilev ballet, the first ballet Vaughan ever attended.
The scenes are often imbued with an underlying psychological tension between the figures. Their gazes rarely connect and there is a palpable strain in the physical distance between them, which seems to suggest an emotional void. In Interior with Nude Figures both figures stare at an indeterminate point on a table, their body language is closed to one another and the setting is dark, weighty and still. Vaughan’s monochromatic use of colour and murky palette communicates something of the sadness, isolation and detachment of the two men, and the painting plays perfectly as a bit of theatre, as if the viewer is witnessing the opening scenes of dark psychological drama.