WATER, TREES AND FIGURES II 1948/59
Keith Vaughan (1912 – 1977)
- 63.5 X 83.7 CM
- OIL ON CANVAS
- Accession number
Keith Vaughan achieved something quite rare in British painting but close to the heart of the European tradition: monumental figure images of a generalized kind, often in summary landscape settings and conveying a sense of humanity in harmony with nature. The theme goes back to ancient Greece and it became a conscious concern of modern art with Cézanne’s figure paintings of around 1900. Taking some formal ideas from Cubism, probably via Matisse, Vaughan constructed his figures as hard and soft, geometrical and organic. They are frontal, they are nude, they lack almost any detail and give little insight into individual personality or even sexual life. Their faces especially that on the right, are without character. Their poses are effective as form but have no narrative role. They are not quite idealized presences but give a sense of commonplace man viewing with respect. Vaughan spoke of them as spiritual beings, and said that ‘It is not to find out what makes things differ which interests me, but what unites things’. This is the basic classical impulse, here expressed with rare concision. The forms of the men are also forms of the landscape, and Vaughan’s colour chords reinforce this congruity.
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
Work of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is a tightly stretched piece of canvas, paper or a wooden panel. Painting involves a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's intellectual concerns effecting the content of a work.