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Provenance

Matthiesen Gallery, London, Private Collection, UK

Description

A reluctant soldier, Keith Vaughan was serving in the Pioneers Corps in 1942, travelling around the south of England from camp to camp. “ After the slush and misery of half the winter under canvas we now live in the luxury of Nissen huts. A shining steel tube with two rows of beds six inches off the floor. By candlelight the ends of the huts are invisible and the tunnel seems to stretch indefinitely in each direction. Some people are already rolled in blankets quietly asleep in the dark shadow… Outside the snow is crisp and clean beneath a sky bright with stars. Inside a spontaneous ever-changing ebb and flow of life laps around the warm centre of the stove” January 1942. In his journals Vaughan vividly captures the fatigue and loneliness of a soldier’s daily existence, and the strange community formed by soldiers drawn together from all walks of life. In Nissen, Vaughan’s own introspection is mirrored in that of his subjects as they write letters home, each lost in his own thoughts. The cavernous dark space behind the figures highlights their physical vulnerability, receeding away into nothingness as if embodying the soldiers own uncertain futures. This potent visual metaphor for human isolation was also identified by the artist Henry Moore, whose famous drawings of figures sheltering in London’s underground were made at this time. The graphic rendering, sombre palette, and melancholy mood of Nissen show it to be a wonderful example of English Neo Romantic Art from this period. Vaughan is here in tune with the stylistic concerns of his contemporaries John Minton and John Craxton. In 1943 Vaughan was sent north to be stationed near York, from where his friendship with Graham Sutherland grew. Sutherland became a mentor figure to Vaughan, and his influence can be seen in later work such as Agony in the Garden, painted in 1944.