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Art & Books

Walls and Gardens


For an artist whose work was so modern, Keith Vaughan’s diaries (he wrote 61 volumes of them) display a surprising tendency for the backward glance.

Paintings courtesy of the Estate of Keith Vaughan

"Walled gardens and lawns affect me as the Madeleine dipped in tea affected Proust," Keith Vaughan wrote to his mother in 1941. In Keith Vaughan: The Mature Oils 1946-1977 (Sansom & Co., out in September), art historian Ian Massey explores the "many walled gardens" of Vaughan's work -- oil paintings of male nudes and color blocks filled with currents of sexual desire.

In 1958, Vaughan lived for six months at Iowa State University, where the "sharp clear air, the swift flowing river" took him "back twenty years to a forgotten youth, all sighs and tears and hands touching in the moonlight."

Another revelation regards a one-week affair with a teenager in Mexico City. Of their parting, Vaughan wrote: "He looked me steadily in the face with brimming, childish, yet wise eyes. Hesitated a moment whether to crook his finger into the palm of my hand, did not. Said goodbye, in English, in a voice, hardly audible, which in all the pulse and movement of life around, held a purity of emotion, an intensity of grief, which I shall not forget as long as I live. He walked slowly up the hill without turning round. At least I do not know whether he turned around because I went blindly away, to nowhere in particular, only away."

Keith Vaughan: The Mature Oils 1946-1977 will be available from Sansom & Co. in September

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