Wednesday 22 May 2013

E. Mcknight Kauffer – part 1

Edward McKnight Kauffer was one of Britain’s most highly influential 20th Century Poster Artists and Graphic Designers. Beginning his professional life as a painter, Kauffer soon embraced poster art as a form of visual communication, enabling the public to view Modern Art through the display of his posters on the streets.

In the early 1900s, Kauffer lived in San Francisco and worked as a bookseller whilst studying at Art School in the evenings. At the shop he sparked up a good friendship with a regular customer who expressed keen interest in his paintings. Joseph McKnight, a professor at Utah University, saw great promise in Kauffer’s work and in 1912 offered to sponsor him. McKnight loaned him enough money to travel to Paris to continue his studies at Académie Moderne. In respect, Kauffer dutifully adopted ‘McKnight’ as his middle name.

En-route to Paris, Kauffer got the opportunity to see the Armory Show in Chicago in March 1913. This show introduced America to everything of importance in European post-impressionist painting at the time: Duchamp, Cezanne, Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, Van Gogh, and Kandinsky. It was so unlike any art America had previously seen. The show opened Kauffer's eyes to the European masters and undoubtedly, proved influential on his work throughout his life.

Before reaching Paris, Kauffer visited Munich. Here, he was introduced to Poster Art’s contribution to a city and the potential for it to be recognised as an art form by both art enthusiasts and the general public alike. For Kauffer, Ludwig Hohlwein’s (1874-1949) work was a clear example of this. His work adorned the streets of Munich and certainly helped initiate the use of typography within Kauffer’s paintings.

While studying in Paris, Kauffer was able to view works by many artists, and took an interest in the various styles and techniques on show. However his time there was cut short by the outbreak of WWI. Reluctant to return to America immediately, he travelled with his then wife, Grace Erhlich, to Britain, where Kauffer felt immediately at home.

Once in London friends introduced Kauffer to Frank Pick, Publicity Manager for London Underground Electric Railways. The relationship lasted for the extent of Kauffer’s career in Britain, with Kauffer producing a tremendous 140 posters for London Transport. In 1915 Pick commissioned four landscape posters; ‘Oxhey Woods’, ‘In Watford’, ‘Reigate; Route 60’ and ‘North Down’s.. Maintaining a very painterly style in these posters, it is possible to see influences of Van Gogh, most notably so in Oxhey Woods, and also of Japanese colour woodcuts in ‘In Watford’.

Kauffer rapidly developed from traditional poster art towards what is recognised today as graphic design. ‘Winter Sales are best reached by Underground’, 1922, is one of several remarkable posters Kauffer designed for Pick as part of a Winter Sales set between 1921-24. It revives his early influences from Vorticist and Japanese woodcuts, its abstracted forms of raincoats and umbrellas and its diagonal impression of wind and rain together create an intelligent and eye-catching pattern that would have equal rights if displayed at any reputable art gallery instead of on an Underground poster-hoarding.

By this point he was a well-known figure and finally thought of himself as a graphic artist rather than a painter. Kauffer regularly visited Paris, and through these visits, French book illustration, theatre, painting and poster design all began to influence his work. On a visit in 1923, Kauffer met Marion Dorn, an American Interior Designer, for whom he left his wife and daughter. His relationship with Marion was personal and professional, they collaborated on a number of projects including; interiors for friends’ offices, and most notably a range of rugs and the interior design, symbol, luggage label and brochure for the Orient Lines flagship modern ocean liner.

Kauffer’s jazzy-style was really coming into its own during the mid-twenties. Kauffer’s most widely seen poster, aside from those for London Transport is,Eno’s Fruit Salts, First Thing Every Morning (1924). Its bold, dynamic style and use of bright colours proved to be very successful. In addition to posters he designed many stage decorations for London theatre shows. Theatre’s influence is prominent in his posters for London Transport at the time. At the onset of WWII Kauffer reluctantly returned to New York.

This is part 1 of 3-part post on the works of E. McKnight Kauffer:

1915 In Watford

1915 Oxhey Woods 
published by Underground Electric Railway Company

1915 Reigate 
published by Underground Electric Railways

1915 The North Downs 
published by Underground Electric Railways

1916 Self promotional 
poster artwork in Colour Magazine

1919 Daily Herald poster

1919 The London Group poster

1920 Epping Forest 
published by Underground Electric Railways

1920 Hainault Forest by Motor Bus 
published by Underground Electric Railways

1921 Winter Sales are best reached by Underground

1922 Poster for The Westminster Press

1922 Winter Sales are best reached by Underground

1922 Winter Sales version 2

1923 Cover for Commercial Art Magazine

1923 Museum of Natural History poster

1923 Reigate Priory Park By Motor Bus

1923 The Heaths, Surrey No. 178 for London Buses

1923 Advertisement for W. G. Briggs
 London Transport poster

1924 Advertisement for Shell

1924 Advertisement for Shell

1924 Poster for Eno's Fruit Salt

1924 Winter Sales are best reached by Underground

1925c Shell Aviation Fuel advertisement

1927 Metropolis

1928 BBC Handbook cover

1928 Press advertisement for Chrysler

1928 Press advertisement for Eno's Fruit Salt

1928 Press advertisement for 'Commercial Art'

1929 Cover for The Studio Magazine

1929 Illustration for "Elsie and the Child" by Arnold Bennett

1929 Whitsuntide 
published by Underground Electric Railways

1930 Illustration from Marina by T.S. Eliot

1930-31c Leaflet for Fortnum & Mason

1931 Illustration for Triumphal March by T.S. Eliot

1931 Play Between 6-12, The Bright Hours 
published by London Underground

1931 Poster for Shell

1931c Leaflet for Curwen Press

1932 Chiswick Works brochure for London General Omnibus Co. Ltd.

1932 London Underground poster

1932c Stonehenge poster issued by Shell Oil and Petrol

1933 Art Now

1933 BP Ethyl Controls Horse-Power 
© BP Archive

1933 Book cover

1933 Go Great Western to Cornwall

1933 London Underground poster

1933 Poster for exhibition of own watercolours

1933 Whitsuntide Holiday for London Underground

1934 Book cover design

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