Edward McKnight Kauffer was born in Great Falls, Montana. From 1911 to 1913 he studied evening classes in art at the Mark Hopkins Institute, San Francisco. In 1913 he spent six months at the Chicago Art Institute, at which time he attended the controversial ‘Armory Show’, which ‘introduced modern European art to a sceptical US public’. Also in 1913, he studied painting in Paris (and Munich), sponsored by Professor McKnight of the University of Utah, whose name he took in gratitude. On the outbreak of war in 1914, Kauffer moved to London, and in 1913 he was commissioned by Frank Pick to design his initial poster for London Underground, the first of many.Kauffer exhibited as a painter in England until 1921, when he transferred his attention to commercial art. Associated with the Cumberland Market Group and the Vorticists, this painting experience stood him in good stead. He ‘insisted that commercial art could and should reflect the progressive styles of the period’, and was familiar with modern art, particularly influenced by cubism, fauvism, art deco and futurism (including his famous ‘Flight of Birds’, used as a Daily Herald poster in 1919. In 1924, Kauffer wrote The Art of the Poster, and in the 1920s, he became chief poster designer for London Underground, for whom he designed over 140 posters. He also designed posters for Shell, British Petroleum, Eastman and Sons, and Mosley’s British Union of Fascists. In 1921, Kauffer designed a book jacket for Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians, the first of a series of designs and illustrations for Nonesuch Press, and Faber and Gwyer. Kauffer also designed stage designs, murals and textiles, including a 1929 rug exhibition with Marion Dom, to become one of his two wives. In 1930 he became art director of the publishing house Lund Humphries.
In 1937 the Museum of Modern Art in New York held a one man exhibition of Kauffer’s work. In March 1939, Kauffer wrote some of his thoughts on poster design for Advertising Monthly. In 1940 Kauffer returned to work in New York, producing several posters for Greek War Relief and the US Treasury. Post-war Kauffer designed for American Airlines between 1947 and 1948, and the New York Subway Advertising Co. Inc. and publisher Alfred A. Knopf from 1949. On the occasion of his death, Havinden discussed the influence of Kauffer on graphic design in Art and Industry, including eighteen months working for Sir William Crawford’s advertising agency (where Ashley Havinden also worked). Crawford was ‘well-known as an advocate of modern advertising design’. Exhibitions of Kauffer’s work were organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1937, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in 1955. A collection of his work as a commercial designer and illustrator, from 1913 to 1950, is held at the National Art Library.
Information taken from: Livingston, A. and Livingston, I., Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers, 1992, p.110, London Transport Museum Database, February 2000, quoting Riddell, 1994, Darracott, J. and Loftus, B., Second World War Posters, 1981 (1972), p.38, McKnight Kauffer. E., ‘I have not returned to my earlier poster style, but…’, Advertising Monthly, March 1939, pp.14-15, Havinden, A., ‘E. McKnight Kauffer’, Art and Industry, Vol. 58, No. 344, February 1955, pp.38-43, National Art Library, ‘AAD Holdings’, http://www.nal.vam.ac.uk/aad/aadalpha.html, accessed August 28 2003
- Haworth-Booth, M., E.McKnight-Kauffer: A Designer and His Public, 1979