Harrow Hill (I)

WAG 2005.21


This painting presents a topographical view of the Essex countryside surrounding the row of artists’ cottages Vaughan had purchased in 1964, called Harrow Hill. It is the first in a series of paintings which directly reference the name of the property in their title. The dynamic composition of angular lines and dispersed rectangular forms in muted colours, suggests a working landscape of farmers fields punctuated by isolated barns and farm buildings. Both the style of the painting and the thick gestural brush stokes show the influence of Paul Cézanne and Georges Braque. During this period, Vaughan had shifted significantly further towards abstraction, leaving the places and people he painted practically unrecognisable. Vaughan’s journals reveal that he had originally bought and refurbished Harrow Hill, not so much as a weekend retreat from the city, but as a means of temporary relief and sexual freedom from an increasingly suffocating relationship. Vaughan practically exiled his long-term partner Ramsay McClure there after realising how destructive the relationship had become for both men, only allowing him to return to their home in Belsize Park with advanced permission. McClure’s banishment was so complete that he even lived in an unheated garden shed whilst the refurbishment was taking place. This meant that Vaughan was free during the week to continue both his painting and his self-satisfaction rituals interrupted. He was also able to pursue his occasional sexual relations with the young working class men he was so attracted to, without fear of recrimination. He would then return to visit McClure and paint the surrounding countryside on a weekend. He viewed the landscape surrounding the cottages as the ideal, unspectacular and relatively compact, combination of air, earth and water for his smaller paintings.