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'I am prepared to affirm that Mr Kauffer's posters are the best there are.' Geoffrey Grigson

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

E. McKnight Kauffer and the innovative Lund Humphries exhibitions (1933 - 1939) - Part 2

Part Two of McKnight Kauffer and Lund Humphries discusses the revolutionary concept of a purpose built exhibition area within the Bedford Square building. Throughout the 1930s this would prove to be an exciting innovation offering avant-garde typographers, photographers and graphic designers unique opportunities to exhibit their work.

Very little has been written about these exhibitions, yet they were an important conduit for many European designers to gain a foothold in London's burgeoning graphic design industry.

The exhibition space aimed to showcase the printing capabilities of the Bradford end of the business, coupled with its intention of supporting aspiring contemporary graphic designers and photographers. Opened on 27 March 1933 (the first exhibition was staged in December of that year) the exhibition showroom was designed by Howard Robertson, a partner in Stanley Hall, Easton and Robertson, a leading architect’s practice of the time. Marion Dorn designed the floor coverings and the curtain material. A review in the October 1933 issue of Architectural Review described Dorn’s creative floor covering as an ‘inlaid rubber sheet…in which the contour suggested by natural shadows is made the pattern of the floor and links the display shelf and table to the bookcase… The depth of tone in the shadow pattern is balanced by the dark mass of an armchair’. Dorn also designed a carpet for the showroom. Many years later James Moran wrote (in the British Printer, June 1963) of the ‘sleek lines of the display surfaces, the displays themselves,…the huge square armchairs (see below), and even the clean lines of the big ash-trays’.

The exhibitions staged at Lund Humphries were cutting edge, most of them on McKnight Kauffer’s suggestion. Imagine, the first time in the UK for Man Ray, Francis Bruguière, Jan Tschichold, Rudolph Koch, Hans Schleger (Zéró), and Polish émigrés, Lewitt-Him (Jan Lewitt and George Him). In a talk delivered to the Wynken de Worde Society in 1974 the founder of the Westerham Press, Rowley Atterbury, claimed that ‘Lund Humphries were, in effect, mounting a series of Exhibitions which one might assume were the proper field of museums, there was, however, far greater awareness of significant contemporary work at 12 Bedford Square than there was in South Kensington [V&A]’. With the worsening situation in Europe in the 1930s, Schleger and Lewitt-Him remained in the UK, and, with McKnight Kauffer’s help in finding clients, went on to establish successful design practices. As Atterbury attests ‘Kauffer was very open-handed towards other designers, often suggesting others for jobs which he could have done himself’.

Exhibitions at Lund Humphries


4 – 20 December

Exhibition of photographs by Francis Bruguière in collaboration with

E. McKnight Kauffer


26 April – 24 May

Hans Schleger (Zéró)

26 June – 14 July

Limited edition books and book bindings from the Cresset Press

19 July – 4 August

Eight commercial artists: Edward Bawden, Theyre Lee Elliott,

Bernard King, Francis Marshall, Peter Morgan, Stella Steyn,

R. Fran Sutton, Rex Whistler.

Work from Lund Humphries' own studio also on display

22 November – 8 December

Man Ray


13 March – 3 April

E. McKnight Kauffer

14 June – 15 July

Klingspor typefoundry, with special reference to the work of Rudolph Koch

27 November – 14 December

Jan Tschichold


30 January – 15 February

Godfrey Gilbert

27 February – 10 March

Reynolds and Balthus

4 June – 30 June

An exhibition of printing and commercial design

'Specimens of work we have carried out for clients in recent years, designed either in collaboration with such

experts as E. McKnight Kauffer, Man Ray, Zero, Jan Tschichold, Francis Bruguière and others, or entirely in our

own studio'


20 January – 10 February

Exhibition of travel propaganda

24 November – 15 December



Foreign Automobile Industry

22 June - 9 July

Three Australians: Alistair Morrison, Geoffrey Collings, Dahl Collings


8 – 25 March

55th Anniversary of Lund Humphries: 1884 - 1939

1933 4 – 20 December

Exhibition of photographs by Francis Bruguière in collaboration with E. McKnight Kauffer

The experimental photographer Francis Bruguière (1879 – 1945) was born in San Francisco and opened a photographic studio there in 1906. It is interesting to note that Kauffer too lived in San Francisco at the same time as Bruguière, and they both went to Europe in the same year (Marion Dorn also came from San Francisco). Bruguière came to London in 1928. In his biography of Bruguière, James Enyeart suggests that 'many of the directions Bruguière's interests followed during this decade were influenced by two new friends, Oswell Blakeston and E. McKnight Kauffer'. Enyeart observed that Bruguière and McKnight Kauffer ‘collaborated to make non-commercial photographs, which compositionally relied on Kauffer’s cubist format’.

Following the exhibition they also worked together to produce illustrations for catalogues and advertisements for Charnaux, a specialist latex corset and underwear manufacturer, and one of Lund Humphries' clients. For his contribution to the illustrations Kauffer created large stylised nude studies against which Bruguière photographed models wearing Charnaux products.

1934 26 April – 24 May

Hans Schleger (Zéró).

An exhibition of work by the German émigré Hans Schleger (family name Schlesinger) who worked under the pseudonym Zéró. He had worked at W.S. Crawford's Berlin office from 1929 to 1932 where he probably first met McKnight Kauffer. When he came to London in 1932 Kauffer introduced Schleger to clients such as London Underground and Shell for whom he designed posters and other advertising material. Quite naturally Schleger designed his own catalogue for the exhibition giving the printers in Bradford a technical challenge. The cover was a metallic-silver board. The inside pages were interleaved with thin blue transparent acetate.

He too produced publicity material for Charnaux.


Cover design for Charnaux booklet

1934 26 April – 24 May Limited Edition Books & Book Bindings from the Cresset Press

The Cresset Press was founded in 1927 by Dennis Cohen, a wealthy philanthropist. The Press specialised in lavishly illustrated editions of classical works, such as Paradise Lost, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and Gulliver’s Travels, richly illustrated by Rex Whistler.

At a later date McKnight Kauffer designed two covers for the Cresset Press. In 1935 he designed the cover for Things To Come by H.G. Wells. This was a book version of the film script based on Wells’ 1933 science fiction novel Shape of Things To Come. The epic film, directed by William Cameron Menzies, and produced by Alexander Korda, was the most expensive to be made in Britain at the time. A great deal of the cost of the film was spent on designing and producing the sets and models, especially those used to depict the underground city of Everytown. Interestingly the Hungarian artist and photographer László Moholy-Nagy was commissioned to design aspects of the city of the future, but very little of what he produced actually used

Kauffer’s cover design uses a photographic still of the actor Raymond Massey dressed as Oswald Cabal, the ruler of the futuristic city of Everytown. Kauffer’s cover is one of the most experimental and advanced of all his book cover designs. It combines photomontage with drawn elements, and hand-drawn lettering based on the popular slab serif Beton Bold typeface. The other jacket, Man Who Could Work Miracles, was also an H.G. Wells book.

1934 19 July – 4 August

Eight commercial artists: Edward Bawden, T. Lee Elliott,

Bernard King, Francis Marshall, Peter Morgan, Stella Steyn,

R. Fran Sutton, Rex Whistler.

Work from Lund Humphries' own studio also on display

Looking at the list of exhibitors from todays perspective they appear to be a strange choice. Edward Bawden and Rex Whistler are well-known today, Theyre Lee-Elliott to a lesser extent. I know nothing about Bernard King, and very little about R Fran Sutton and Peter Morgan. The painter Stella Steyn seems an odd choice - although I can only guess that it was the work she produced as a student at the Dessau Bauhaus that attracted McKnight Kauffer and Peter Gregory.

Theyre Lee-Elliott (1903-1988)

(David Lee Theyre Elliott)

Lee-Elliott read theology at Cambridge, a subject he returned to in later life. In the late 1920s he was, nevertheless, drawn to making a living as a commercial artist, attending classes at the Central School of Arts & Crafts, and the Slade School of Fine Art. At the time of the Lund Humphries exhibition he had gained a considerable reputation as a poster and book jacket designer. His clients included Imperial Airways, GPO, London Transport, and Austin Reed. Some of his designs were clearly influenced by McKnight Kauffer’s work. An example of this similarity can be seen in the speed bird logo he designed for Imperial Airways in 1932 which is reminiscent of the birds on Kauffer's Daily Herald poster of 1919.

The symbol was later adapted to act as the speed bird logo for BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation).

R. Fran Sutton (1912 -1997) (Reginald Francis Sutton)

Not a great deal is known about Sutton. He earned a living as a painter, designer and illustrator. I have no idea what he showed at the Lund Humphries exhibition. In c. 1938 he produced this striking ARP (Air Raid Precautions) recruitment poster. He was also a skilled illustrator, as can be seen in this 1935 scraperboard illustration of a racing motorcyclist advertisement for Shell oils. In the 1939 Registry he is living in Ashford, Middlesex, with his wife Sara Mildred Sutton (née Powell). Both describe themselves as ‘Artist (Painter)’.

This rather splendid photograph of him mixing colours on a palette is dated 1934

Stella Steyn (1907 -1987)

(Stella Josephine Steyn)

I can understand why this artist was chosen as an exhibitor. Born in Dublin to Latvian immigrants Stella Steyn studied at art school in Dublin before her tutor, the Irish painter Patrick Tuohy, recommended she continue her studies in Paris. In the immediate post-WW1 period Paris began to regain its reputation as the art centre of the world. The 1920s was a creative period for artists, writers and entertainers. Steyn attended various academies and began her artistic career, showing her work in Dublin, London, and New York. Tuohy had met James Joyce (and painted his portrait) when he was in Paris in 1924, and arranged a meeting between Steyn and the author. She became friends with Joyce and his daughters. An introduction to Sylvia Beach, the American bookseller and publisher, led to Steyn being commissioned to illustrate a serialised version of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake for the experimental literary journal, transition.

Her career path took an unusual direction when she enrolled in classes at the Bauhaus in Dessau. Steyn biographers are keen to point out that she became the only Irish person to study at the Bauhaus in its fourteen year history. It was here that she carried out mixed media graphic design layouts – perhaps reminiscent of Herbert Bayer’s experimental Bauhaus layouts. It is my guess that these works, plus her illustrations, were shown at the Lund Humphries exhibition.

From 1938 onwards she remained living in Tavistock Square (Bloomsbury), London. Not a great deal is known about her career during this period – perhaps she had worked anonymously on design commissions she had gained following the Lund Humphries exhibition – but from the 1950s onwards her colourful, stylised portraits and still life paintings were shown at the Leicester Galleries in London., the Tate Gallery, and the Royal Academy. The work she produced during this period of her life deserves wider recognition.

(William) Francis Marshall (1901 - 1980)

Marshall was a successful illustrator, known for his work for journals such Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. He authored several books relating to fashion illustration. Francis Marshall reached a wider audience for his work by becoming Barbara Cartland’ favoured artist for her book cove. He illustrated more than 200 jackets for Cartland’s novels

Peter Morgan – Similarly, little is known about Peter Morgan – except he designed two Shell posters. One with the photographer, Maurice Beck (Now and Until Next May: Winter Shell 1936), and one other under his own name (Eyston Says B.P Ethyl is Plus A Little Something1938). The Beck / Morgan poster is reminiscent of McKnight Kauffer’s style.

Kauffer asked Beck to teach him photographic darkroom skills, so that he could develop and print his own photographs.

1935 13 March – 3 April E McKnight Kauffer

This is how McKnight Kauffer displayed his work. The layout of the Orient Line poster on the right differs slightly from the one displayed in the exhibition

Left - cover of W&A Gilbey booklet (see above)

Right - a poster for Gilbey's Spey Royal Scotch Whisky

McKnight Kauffer's own exhibition was widely reviewed and demonstrated how he was now at the peak of his profession, admired not only by the trade press but also by serious art critics of the time. Anthony Blunt for the Spectator and Geoffrey Grigson for Commercial Art & Industry both gave it large and positive reviews. It was reviewed in the avant-garde arts magazine Axis and a new, relatively short-lived journal, Design for To-Day, dedicated five pages to Kauffer's work. The Scotsman, The Listener, the Guardian and the Evening Standard all reviewed the exhibition. The Evening Standard notice included a photograph of Kauffer taken by Man Ray. The Scotsman referred to Kauffer as 'the Picasso of advertising design' Eileen Holding writing in Axis stated:

'McKnight Kauffer presents himself in all his versatility at No. 12, Bedford Square. He

shows illustrations that border on Cocteau, outlined hands almost drawn by Picasso,

shades of the mysterious naivety of Christopher Wood and posters that are

uncompromisingly McKnight Kauffer…His posters are vitally interesting and vitally

necessary; they exist as works of art...'

Catalogue cover and list of exhibits

The eminent writer and critic (also editor and poet) Geoffrey Grigson wrote:

The Evolution of a Master Designer:

'The work of McKnight Kauffer is not necessary; that is the first thing one learns from his exhibition

held recently at Messrs. Lund Humphries in Bedford Square. I mean it is above the quality which

most advertisers really need for selling their goods… All these things I say as an art critic going

outside his job, if you like, without a thorough knowledge of all the problems of publicity

campaigning; but I also write as one of a public upon whom posters have a design; and from going

round London in tubes, buses, streets, I am prepared to affirm that Mr. Kauffer's posters

are the best that there are.'

Another writer, signing himself as 'E.S.A' in Advertising Display journal', wrote:

Although Kauffer's commercial designs check us in the street, halt feet scurrying down the

interminable passages of the tube railways and break into our book-beguiled leisure, an exhibition

of them is by no means redundant. It is extraordinarily interesting to be able to see displayed at one

time the products of Kauffer's amazing genius over a period of years.

It becomes immediately clear that Kauffer is one of the few artists working for industry to-day who

thinks and creates in terms of commercial art. …he has probably had more influence on the

practice of advertisement presentation in this country than any other individual.

left. Orient Line brochure cover

above: Invitation card to Fortnum & Mason

Spring 1933 Collection

In an advertisement placed in the 1936 issue of the Penrose Annual, extolling the quality of Lund Humphries printing carried out in its Bradford works, it read:

'Obviously, not all the Exhibitions held have been of universal appeal, but judging by

the number of visitors, and the very favourable Press notices given. We hope we have

added something more than a cubit to the stature of Printing in the eyes of the

contemporary world'.

Part 3 to follow: I will discuss exhibitions from 1935 -1939 in a new post


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