Keith VaughanCain and Abel 1946

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Artwork details

Keith Vaughan (1912‑1977)
Cain and Abel
Date 1946
MediumWatercolour, gouache, crayon, charcoal and ink on paper mounted onto board
Dimensionsimage: 553 x 730 mm
Acquisition Purchased 2001
Not on display


The painting refers to the biblical story of Cain and Abel as recounted in chapter four of the Book of Genesis. Cain was thrown into a rage of jealousy when his brother Abel’s offering was accepted by God instead of his. In his fury he killed Abel. As the first occurrence of murder in the Bible, the story has had considerable interest for artists over the centuries. For Vaughan, who had been a conscientious objector during the Second World War (1939-45), it is likely the story had a special poignancy.

Cain is depicted standing in a louring landscape clutching Abel’s limp body. In his right hand is the weapon, possibly a bone of some sort, with which he has bludgeoned his brother. Abel’s head, bearing an almost serene expression, lolls pathetically against Cain’s massive chest. In contrast, Cain’s tormented face, reminiscent of a tragic mask, stares out of the picture, his eyes unseen and his hair windswept as if caught in a storm. In a deliberate compositional conceit, the weapon, and Cain and Abel’s heads are all aligned along the central vertical axis. The latent homoeroticism of the picture is consistent with much of Vaughan’s work… (read more)

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On paper, unique (48,788)


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