In the Spotlight: Edward McKnight Kauffer
American artist and illustrator, Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), was one of the most renowned poster designers of the 20th century. Born Edward Kauffer in Montana, he lived in an orphanage from 1893-1899 where he started to draw. On moving back home after his mother’s re-marriage, his mother and step-father supported his artistic talent and aspirations. He moved to San Francisco in 1910 where he worked for the art dealer and bookseller, Paul Elder, and continued his art studies in the evenings at the Mark Hopkins Institute, California School of Design. A professor at Utah University, Joseph McKnight, sponsored him in 1912 and gave him a loan to move to Paris. (Out of respect for his sponsor, Edward Kauffer adopted McKnight as his middle name.)
In 1913 he moved to France via a short stint at the Art Institute of Chicago and a visit to Munich, where he was undoubtedly influenced by the European post-impressionist paintings and move towards modernism on display, as well as poster art and typography. He continued his studies at the Academie Moderne until the outbreak of World War One when he moved to London in 1914 with his wife, Grace Ehrlich (a pianist), and daughter, Ann.
In London, he was introduced to Frank Pick, Publicity Manager for London Underground, leading to his commission to produce a staggering 140 posters for London Underground, later London Transport. His style of artwork developed from a more traditional painterly style to a more modern and dynamic graphic design style and his success as an advertising poster artist was outstanding. In 1921 he exhibited in New York but, not achieving the same response from commissions as he had in London, he returned to England.
In 1923, on one of his regular visits to Paris, he met Marion Dorn, an American interior designer. He left his wife and daughter for her and their relationship included professional collaboration on a few projects, such as the interior and advertising designs for Orient Lines’ flagship ocean liner. (Edward and Marion later married in 1950 but then separated in 1953.) Now a renowned graphic designer, he was also busy with other commercial clients, including BP and Shell Oil, and he was involved with illustrating books and book covers, textiles, theatre and interior design.
At the start of World War Two, he reluctantly moved to New York. His commissions in America started with MOMA and he went on to produce propaganda posters during the war before working for his final client, American Airlines, in 1947. The success and recognition he achieved in London was soon repeated in New York and, in terms of his commercial work, he is now most well known for his London Underground, Shell and American Airlines poster artworks, as well as his book designs for Lund Humphries. Edward McKnight Kauffer was certainly a prolific and dedicated designer, working right up to his death at the age of 64 in 1954.
Here is a summary of a few of Edward McKnight Kauffer’s awards, associations and other achievements:
1914 – Joined the London Group
1919 – Formed the X Group with Wyndham & Lewis and joined the Arts League of Service (ALS)
1924 – Published his own book, The Art of the Poster
1930 – Appointed Art Director for the book publishers, Lund Humphries
1934 – Awarded Honorary Fellow for the Council of Art and Industry
1936 – Awarded Honorary Designer for Industry by Royal Society of Arts in London
1945 – Received a Certificate of Honour for his wartime propaganda posters
1947 – Awarded Distinctive Merit from the Art Directors Club of New York and became Honorary Advisor to the Department of Public Information of the United Nations
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