The Adventures of Tom Sawyer Illustrations by Keith Vaughan
“Keith Vaughan (1912-1977) was one of the most significant British artists of his generation, celebrated in the 1950s and ‘60s for his semi-abstract figure paintings. He had a high reputation among fellow painters and discerning collectors, ranking, for some, alongside Francis Bacon. Yet, despite acclaim, Vaughan remained elusive as a public figure, perhaps because of his uncompromising sexual identity as a gay man (another thing shared with Bacon) which seems to have set him apart and emphasised his solidarity and private personality. His commitment to art and ideas seemed to be all-consuming and let to a rejection of the trappings of art stardom.” (Colin Cruise, Keith Vaughan: Figure and Ground: Drawings, Prints and Photographs)
The Aberystwyth University School of Art bought a large number of Keith Vaughan’s works with the support of a V & A/MGC Purchase Grant in 1985. Artist Gerard Hastings, who was at the time a Fine Art and Art History student at the School of Art and is now a well-known authority on Vaughan, had initiated the acquisition. The collection now holds almost 500 works by Vaughan, including 369 examples of his commercial design and illustration projects – printer’s proofs, book dustcovers, bookplates as well as photographs of designs for Edinburgh Weavers.
Keith Vaughan’s illustrations for Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Saywer (1947, first published in 1876) were a commission for Paul Elek’s ‘Camden Classics’ series that also included Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1947, first published in book-form 1883), illustrated by John Minton, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1948, first published in 1884), with images by Edward Burra.
Vaughan’s images for Tom Sawyer not only express a sense of adventure and boyhood friendships, but also have erotic undertones that imply the artist’s interest in the adult male body. Vaughan has chosen to depict Twain’s protagonists as young men although they are only 12 or 13 years old in the text.
A selection of Vaughan’s Tom Sawyer illustrations can be seen at the School of Art until the end of February during opening hours: Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm.
Works by Keith Vaughan will be included in the upcoming exhibition QUEER BRITISH ART 1861–1967 at Tate Britain, London (05 April – 01 October 2017).