Keith Vaughan

Keith Vaughan “Drawing of a Group of Five Nude Males”

Born in August of 1912 in Selsey, England, John Keith Vaughan was a British painter and photographer who was one of the leading proponents of Neo-Romanticism. Britain’s foremost painter of male nudes before David Hockney and Patrick Procktor, he created muted depictions of anonymous male nudes set in abstract landscapes that expressed his internal struggle with his homosexuality. Due to legal laws against homosexuality, Vaughan was compelled to self-censor and veil his imagery due to legal risks and possible charges from obscenity laws.

Keith Vaughan attended Christ’s Hospital school. As an intending conscientious objector during the Second World War, he was conscripted into the Non-Combatant Corps, providing physical labor to the army. In 1942, stationed at Ashton Gifford in Wiltshire, Vaughan had his first exhibition of paintings at the Manchester Art Gallery. 

During the war, Keith Vaughan became friends with painters Graham Sutherland, notable for his work in glass and fabrics, and John Minton, an illustrator and stage designer. In 1946 after leaving service, the three men shared living and studio premises. It was through their association that Vaughan became part, for a brief period, of the Neo=Romantic movement of the immediate post-war period.  Upon his leaving the genre, his work, concentrating on studies of male figures, became increasingly more abstract.

During the years of the mid to late 1940s, Keith Vaughan produced around twenty-five paintings of male bathers, as well as scenes and drawings in gouache and other media. At Pagham, on the south coast of England between 1947 and 1948, Vaughan met John McGuinness, an ill-educated, working-class orphan from Liverpool. In some ways, the young man reminded Vaughan of his younger brother Dick, who was killed in the war seven years earlier, which led Vaughan to provide clothing, meals and an education for McGuinness. 

McGuinness, with his large hands and athletic body, represented something raw and honest, embodying all the qualities that Vaughan was attracted to. McGuinness’s gentle, unaffected character allied him with nature in Vaughan’s imagination. John McGuinness’s broad, broken nose, fringe and rugged look make their appearance in several works from this time onwards. The 1947 oil painting “Standing Male Figure”, with its blue background, and the 1949  color lithograph “The Woodsman”, both shown above. are two of the works featuring McGuinness.

An art teacher at the Camberwell College of Arts and later at the Slade School, Keith Vaughan is also known for the journals he kept, published  in 1966 and posthumously in 1989. A gay man who was troubled by his sexuality, Vaughan’s life is mostly revealed to us through these daily journals. Diagnosed with cancer in 1975, John Keith Vaughan committed suicide in London on November 4th of 1977, writing in his diary as the drug overdose took effect. 

For more extensive information on the life of Keith Vaughan, I suggest the Keith Vaughan Society which is located at:

An article by award-winning poet and art critic Sue Hubbard on Keith Vaughan’s life and his photographic work on Pagham Beach can be found online at The London Magazine located at:

Top Insert Image: Felix H. Man, “Keith Vaughan”, 1948, Gelatin Silver Print, 24.9 x 17.7 cm, National Portrait Gallery, London

Middle Insert Image: Keith Vaughan, “Figure Group”, 1956, Pencil on Paper, 17.9 x 24.8 cm, Victoria and Albert Collection South Kensington

Bottom Insert Image: Keith Vaughan, “Two Men”, 1970, Charcoal on Paper, 70 x 56 cm, Private Collection

Leave a Reply