Vaughan spoke fine French and regularly read the Symbolist poetry of Arthur Rimbaud throughout his life. He made several paintings and numerous drawings based on his cycles of poems, Les Illuminations, and this is one of them. At the lower left he has written the words of which he is making a pictorial translation: Aussitôt que l’idée du Déluge se fut rassise, un lièvre s’arrêta dans les sainfoins et les clochettes mouvantes et dit sa prière à l’arc-en-ciel à travers la toile de l’araignée. (As soon as the idea of the Flood was finished, a hare halted in the clover and the trembling bluebells and said its prayer to the rainbow through the spider’s web.) The rich and symbolic associations of Rimbaud’s words have triggered all sorts of visual images in the painting including the little white hare, the slate grey sky after rain, the green clover and bluebell flowers and even the mesh of the spider’s web. Vaughan was, perhaps, the leading exponent of gouache painting in British art during the post-war years. This highly worked example comes from one of the richest periods of his work in terms of his gouache painting. It was made at time of professional uncertainty and emotional turmoil, since he had come to believe that everything he had worked towards throughout his career, was now considered irrelevant with the onset of Pop Art and New Generation trends. A distinguishing quality of Vaughan’s gouache technique is the variety and diversity of his of mark-making and how he retained a record of each stage of the working process in the final statement. For example, in some areas the whiteness of the blank paper sparkles through; in other places translucent washes are retained, counterbalanced elsewhere by opaque brushwork that obliterates parts of previous pictorial decisions. His free handling of paint, his distinctive frothy deposits and energetic brush marks, lend the image an uncommon vitality and liveliness and his painterly, vigorous application transmits a considerable expressive force. Vaughan has imposed a grid on pictorial architecture on the pictorial forms, perhaps a parallel to the mesh of the spider’s web and this is reinforced by small, structured blocks of colour that sing out of the composition. These are bound together with broad brushtracks made with gouache Indian ink.
Waddington Galleries, London, 1976, New Paintings and Gouaches, six gouaches inspired by Les Illuminations; acquired from Waddington Galleries by Prof Cecil Arthur Hackett for £500; Julian Lax, Hampstead; Richard Selby (Redfern Gallery); Osborne Samuel, Keith Vaughan Centenary Tribute, November – December 2012, p.81 in the catalogue (reproduced full page in the catalogue); Peter Cotterill from whom acquired by John Constable in 2013