KEITH VAUGHANCoastguard Station Interior
- Vaughan, Keith
- Coastguard Station Interior
- signed and dated '51
- oil on canvas
Alex. Reid and Lefevre Ltd, London, where acquired by the family of the present owner in the 1960s
London, Hanover Gallery, Space in Colour, 7th July - 7th August 1953, cat. no.52;
New York, Durlacher Bros., Keith Vaughan: Paintings and Gouaches, 1955, cat. no.1;
Bristol, Royal West of England Academy, Keith Vaughan: Retrospective, 1958, cat. no.90.
Known primarily as a painter of the male form, Keith Vaughan was also a prolific and highly accomplished still-life artist and Coastguard Station Interior is one of his largest and most ambitious compositions exploring this genre. Despite the absence of a painted figure, the table, the paddle-shaped forms, the various nautical accoutrements, the flag-like marker and the mysterious key resting on the chair, serve to indicate an enigmatic presence of an undepicted coastguard.
After the war Vaughan travelled widely through Italy, Spain and France and spent a good deal of his time cycling round the ports and harbours of Brittany and in particular Finisterre. However, it is more likely that inspiration for Coastguard Station Interior came from much closer to home. Over the course of 1951 he toured across Northumberland, throughout Scotland and Ireland and, later, around Cornwall – more often than not drawn to the coastline. These extensive travels gave him ample opportunity to visit seaports, lighthouses, docklands and coastguard stations, though his journals do not indicate any visits to a particular station. The purpose of these extended trips was to seek out possible subjects for paintings and along the way he made notes in his sketchbooks. On his return to his studio in London these aides memoires were subsequently developed into studies and paintings.
During the years immediately following the war Vaughan was developing a greater awareness of the painted surface as an expressive and important element in itself. He was at pains to achieve a reconciliation between the figurative and abstract elements within his painting. His aim was to attain a synthesis between identifiable, observed forms and their poetic and semi-abstract depiction. To this end, Coastguard Station Interior presents a classical and organised composition. Emblematic objects are carefully ordered and consciously arranged across the surface of the picture plane. The table at the left, for example, is tilted upwards and slanted with complete disregard for the traditional rules of linear perspective or foreshortening. Similarly, the placement and treatment of the chair at the right is flattened and, like all pictorial elements in the picture, compressed and angled towards the viewer. Furthermore the interplay of fractured light and box-like shadows contributes to the geometric structuring of the painting. This interlocking and interweaving of form and light is, of course, derived from Picasso and Gris, and the Cubist concern for the painted surface. Nevertheless Vaughan’s approach is, perhaps, more poetic and atmospheric. This is in no small part the result of his economical use of muted Prussian, Ultramarine and Cobalt blues, played off against contrasting creamy pigments. This not only brings to mind the colour of the navy blue uniform of the coastguard but also creates a fully resolved and harmonious pictorial effect. As in so many of his paintings of this period, Vaughan was attempting to ‘create order out of chaos’, to quote Herbert Read. He said:
‘What one wants to make is a non-destructive and completely static solution…In fact, a painting that has all the tensions in it, but is not destructive, not chaotic, but is fundamentally orderly. Because I do believe, always have believed, and can never imagine myself giving up the belief that the real value of all the art, which I like most, is that it is orderly. This is largely why I tend to dislike the expressionistic line of painting that may be vital, but is so often disorderly.’ (Keith Vaughan, unpublished interview with Dr. Tony Carter, 1963).