The Man Who Would Be King

Known as, variously, a modernist exponent of interior design, sceneography, graphic design and illustration, this exhibition will see Edward McKnight Kauffer lauded The Poster King, and rightly so.

Taking in Japanese art, Fauvism, constructivism and surrealism, Kauffer (1890-1954) developed an adaptable style and applied it to commercial poster art.

Soaring to Success! Daily Herald - the Early Bird 1919

Source: Victoria and Albert Museum

Soaring to Success! Daily Herald – the Early Bird 1919

This exhibition focusses on his time in England between 1914 and 1940 – credited as being his most successful – where iconic London Underground and Shell designs were created in the inter-war years.

In Watford, 1915

Source: London Transport Museum

In Watford, 1915

It also looks at his early work, which reflects on the aesthetics of Vorticism, Cubism, and Italian Futurism.

Vorticism seems to be something of a leitmotif for Design Week at the moment – with Rose Design working up this poster art for the Tate Britain Vorticists exhibition, and Creative Review holding their Tweet Up at the same exhibition last week.

Summertime Pleasures by Underground, 1925

Source: Private collection

Summertime Pleasures by Underground, 1925

Born in Montana, Kauffer studied in Chicago and moved to France before settling in England, where in 1915 he was taken on by London Underground.

From here on, ‘the tunnels of the tube became thenceforth his subterranean picture galleries,’ according to Vorticist painter Wyndham Lewis, who also dubbed Kauffer The Poster King.

Winter Sales are best reached by the Underground, 1922

Source: London Transport Museum

Winter Sales are best reached by the Underground, 1922

Kauffer was never an official member of the Vorticist group but he moved in their circles, and many others too, somehow reconciling several emergent stylistic influences with commercial know-how.

The Poster King: Edward McKnight Kauffer will run from 14 September – 18 December 2011 at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, N1

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  • James Webb November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    The exhibition has been produced in association with Brian Webb (Director/Designer Webb & Webb), Peyton Skipwith and Simon Rendall.

    The exhibition catalougue will be designed by Webb & Webb and also on sale will be Design: McKnight Kauffer from the award winning Design series published by ACC and designed by Webb & Webb.

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