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As Autumn Fades...

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

McKnight Kauffer Musings

Autumn beech woods

As Autumn fades I have been out this week with my camera catching the last of the golden beech leaves before they fall and mix with the russet coloured beech mast on the floor of the woods. These are the same woods and pastoral footpaths that McKnight Kauffer, Marion Dorn and their cairn terrier would have walked in the late 1930s.

I live in the village of Northend, high in the heavily wooded chalk escarpment of the Chiltern Hills. It was here McKnight Kauffer and Marion Dorn found their perfect weekend retreat - The White House, a late Georgian / early Regency brick built house overlooking common land, a pond, and Northend village green. The house, leased from the Fane family who owned the 2700 acre Wormsley Estate, is situated at the very edge of the estate. This was at a time when skilled craftsmen, known as bodgers, worked in these beech woods turning chair legs and spindles to supply the chair-making industry in nearby High Wycombe, home to such famous furniture manufacturers as Ercol, G-Plan and Parker Knoll

E. McKnight Kauffer The White House Northend Buckinghamshire c.1938 I love the cloud above the house - the type of cloud that appeared in many of his posters

The nearby fields and walks through the woods were Kauffer’s inspiration for a pair of illustrated posters, issued by London Transport in 1938. Although renowned for his stylised modernist posters, he was also capable of showing a light touch when portraying rural scenes in his printed work. With over 20 years of experience behind him he knew how to represent landscapes, trees and foliage using deft brush strokes, tonal changes, and spatial effects that translated well in printed lithographic form.

The posters, each with a London Transport roundel symbol superimposed at the bottom right, may look strange, sans text. But when displayed on Underground station platforms, and outside entrances, they would appear alongside additional posters bearing texts describing where, in London, to catch a Green Line coach to visit different countryside destinations. The textual posters bore a simple decorative border top and bottom, designed by Kauffer.

In 1955 one of the posters was adapted to act as an advertisement for the memorial exhibition of the work of

E. McKnight Kauffer at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It carries two lines from a Thomas Hood sonnet:

How bravely Autumn paints upon the sky The gorgeous fame of Summer which is fled!

In the summer of 1938 Kauffer had a stable building converted into a studio. As with his studio in Swan Court, London, everything was neatly arranged - brushes were held in empty Fortnum and Mason ceramic ginger jars (Sidney Garrad, Kauffer’s studio assistant, told me this), and paints laid out on an Artek low table designed by Alvar Aalto. His mother visited them that summer too, crossing the Atlantic rather grandly on the Queen Mary. Builders were busy making changes to the main house, there were all the signs that he and Marion Dorn were happy to have found a weekend retreat and fully intended to spend more time there. All this was to change when World War II broke out a year later. As American citizens they had no choice but return to their native country. The crossing would be dangerous. The liner they booked their crossing on, the SS Washington, had been stopped by a German U-Boat off Portugal on its previous crossing, but was eventually allowed to continue its voyage. McKnight Kauffer and Dorn set sail from Galway on the 7 July 1940, probably the last wartime passenger crossing made by the SS Washington. It was requisitioned by the US Navy in June 1941.

SS Washington with American flag and "United States Lines" clearly displayed to inform the German navy

Amongst the close friends he made in New York was the poet Marianne Moore. He often regaled Moore with stories of his beloved house in England and the wooded Buckinghamshire countryside surrounding The White House, Northend. Moore paid him the compliment of repeating one of his stories to form part of her 1950 poem Icosasphere.

But that’s another story.


Mary Casserley
Mary Casserley
Nov 20, 2021

I was thinking of these posters on a dog walk yesterday morning, the same Beech woodlands as our ancestors walked through, inspiring artists through the ages.

Graham Twemlow
Graham Twemlow
Nov 20, 2021
Replying to

Hi Mary

Yes, in the past my wife and I have walked our dogs in these very woods. Now we have dogs or puppies from the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People scheme at Saunderton (Buckinghamshire) for short periods e.g when their full-time puppy training volunteers are on holiday. We have one right now - we walked through the woods this morning

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