: Self-construction in the Journal of Keith Vaughan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The British painter Keith Vaughan (1912-77) spent his career studying the male figure and its relationship to its environment. Yet Vaughan was not simply a gifted painter; he was an erudite, compelling, compulsive writer. The personal journal written from 1939 until his suicide in 1977 – sixty-one volumes in total – reveals a man whose ambitions as a painter required an ongoing expression in language, a practice that was integral to his creative life. Vaughan's journal-writing established a complex interrelation between his attitudes towards morality, aesthetics, love and sex, and his own insecurities as a man and as an artist. This study – the result of an extensive archive-based research project – examines Vaughan's journal as a continuous literary text in which he constructed his identity by establishing his positions on war, society, autobiography, and art. The critical approach of this study draws on diverse theoretical perspectives and delves into Vaughan’s own reading to reconstruct the reasoning that informed such positions.
Beginning with Vaughan's wartime writing on his conscientious objection, this study explores how he situated himself as an outsider, a misunderstood yet superior outcast whose homosexuality and principles distanced him from society. This study traces the evolution of his outsider identity, its role in consolidating his visual subject matter, and its influence on the perspective from which he would paint the male figure. Engaging with his wartime reading, attempts at autobiography, and burgeoning theory on art practice, this study reveals the centrality of journal-writing to Vaughan’s construction of the creative individual as an ideal type of 'the artist' in whose image he could construct himself. Through careful cross-referencing of the original manuscripts with Vaughan's self-edited edition of his first twenty-seven years of journal-writing, this study concludes by analysing Vaughan's attempts through self-editorship to curate his legacy in the form of autobiographical artefact.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMax Saunders (Supervisor) & Mark Turner (Supervisor)

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