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McKnight Kauffer & Lund Humphries (Part 1)

E. McKnight Kauffer
Catalogue cover

This post chronicles McKnight Kauffer’s association with the Lund Humphries publishing house and Eric Craven (Peter) Gregory, its joint managing director. The art historian Valerie Holman has written admirably on the history of the Lund Humphries publishing side of its business – from 1939-2014 – and on the important role played by Peter Gregory as ‘publisher, patron, and promoter of contemporary British art’. My article will reveal the pre-war years when, as design advisor to the company, McKnight Kauffer established a design studio and exhibition space in Lund Humphries’ London office at 12 Bedford Square. I will divide the Blog article into 2 parts – the first part deals with McKnight Kauffer’s appointment as a design consultant to Lund Humphries and the in-house design team – at least the ones I know about.

E. McKnight Kauffer

moving card for Lund Humphries 3 Amen Corner to 12 Bedford Square


Kauffer’s first association with Lund Humphries began in circa 1924 when he designed a Christmas card (as one of a series of four designed by different modern artists) published by Lund Humphries in collaboration with the Poetry Bookshop, and printed by Lund Humphries’ Country Press, Bradford. But it was in 1932 when the company moved its London office from Amen Corner, in the City, to 12 Bedford Square (Kauffer designed the moving card) that a business association began with Peter Gregory which grew into a close friendship.. The following year Kauffer accepted the position of design consultant to Lund Humphries which involved taking responsibility for the company’s design work himself, and overseeing the work of others. One of the first initiatives, possibly arrived at with discussions between Gregory and Kauffer, was to set up an exhibition space which showcased the printing capabilities of its Bradford end of the business, coupled with its aim of supporting aspiring contemporary graphic designers and photographers.

The exhibition showroom opened on 27 March 1933 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, and even the clean lines of the big ash-trays’.

John Selby-Bigge (1892-1973) (Sir John Amherst Selby-Bigge)

Another initiative, launched in March 1933, was to offer a workspace for experimental photographers utilising Lund Humphries’ bespoke darkroom and studio area, initially under the direction of John Selby-Bigge. Born in Oxford in 1892 Selby-Bigge briefly attended the Slade School of Fine Art where he met Edward Wadsworth and Paul Nash, both of whom helped him in his later career. The outbreak of WW1 curtailed his studies – he enlisted and served as a Lieutenant with the Royal Army Service Corps. Disillusioned by the effects of the War he did not return to the Slade. Instead, for some years, he led a peripatetic life before returning to concentrate on his original ambition of becoming an artist. Taken with the work of the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico, whose work was shown at the Arthur Tooth gallery in 1928, he experimented with Surrealism.

Georgio de Chirico
Arthur Tooth & Sons Gallery

The role as overseer of the photography studio at Lund Humphries appears strange. I can find no reference of him working as a photographer, but perhaps the aim was to simply encourage photographers to experiment with the medium, without any technical support taking place. I think a clue to his appointment might lie in the fact that he married fellow Slade student, (Rachel) Ruth Humphries, sister to Eric Beresford Humphries, Gregory’s fellow joint managing director of Lund Humphries responsible for the Country Printing works in Bradford (he took Beresford from his mother’s maiden name). I assume Selby-Bigge’s role at Lund Humphries was short-lived but through Ruth’s contacts he was introduced to an important circle of artists and other influential figures. Paul Nash invited him to join Unit One, an illustrious group of artists formed to embrace all aspects of modern art. Their one and only exhibition took place at the Mayor Gallery in April 1934. Selby-Bigge was included.

The photography studio at Lund Humphries was used by two notable avant-garde photographers – namely Francis Bruguière and Man Ray. Kauffer collaborated with each of these cutting-edge experimental photographers. The associations will be discussed in Part 2.

Maurice V (Vaughan) Bennett (1908-1985)

The company employed a full-time designer who worked from a studio in the basement of the building. Bennett usually worked anonymously, but occasionally he received a name credit for his work. At the time he was working at Lund Humphries he was still living with his parents in Hendon, north-west London (coincidentally his father’s middle name was ‘Beresford’). I assume he was appointed in 1933. There are clear signs that he was heavily influenced and even tutored by Kauffer

Bruguière / Bennett Use Air Mail poster

The most outstanding example of Kauffer’s influence can be a wonderful poster for the GPO airmail service. Working with the American-born photographer Francis Bruguière, Bennett designed a stark yet stylish design adopting one of Kauffer’s traits of linking texts with the use of geometric lines. But for the ‘signatures’ of Bruguière & Bennett at the base of the poster it could easily be mistaken as a Kauffer design.

Another known example of Bennett’s design expertise is a spiral bound booklet, commissioned by British Xylonite Co. Ltd, a company that was experimenting with manufacturing plastics made from different source material. Ordinary everyday objects such as combs, table tennis balls, and buttons were amongst the specialities of their products. The surviving copy (V&A) of the booklet Bennett designed explains the use of milk in the production of a plastic material known as Lactoid. The page layouts by Bennett demonstrate his understanding of modern design and contemporary approaches to typography.

Unfortunately I cannot take Bennett’s contribution to the design output of Lund Humphries any further. From the known examples of his work he was clearly an accomplished designer. During the war he worked on propaganda material for the Ministry of Information. In 1943 he designed a propaganda leaflet and poster warning of the danger of communicating sensitive information he designed for the Ministry of Information during the war, ‘Keep It Dark: Careless Lives costs lives’. The Imperial War Museum holds a Bennett poster warning servicemen of the dangers of catching venereal disease and not dealing with it quickly. ‘Delay is dangerous!’ This poster design, again, can be viewed as an homage to Kauffer with two stylised clouds in a blue sky on the bright side of the poster, signifying help is available if you act as soon as possible.

I do not think Bennett returned to Lund Humphries after the war. A hint of the direction his career might have taken him was recorded in the 1939 national register in which he described his occupation as an ‘architectural draughtsman’. Could this be the career path he followed in the post-war years?

Sidney A (Arthur) Garrad (1916 – c.2006) I visited and interviewed Sidney many times. On one occasion I brought him out to Northend, the village I live in, so that he could see The White House, Kauffer’s and Dorn’s weekend retreat, for the first time. I will aim to write a more extended piece on Sidney at a later date – this is to record his time at Lund Humphries.

Sidney Garrad working on a design at Lund Humphries
c. 1936

Sidney had been working as a studio assistant to McKnight Kauffer at the Swan Court address for around four years when the arrangement was disrupted after Kauffer and Marion Dorn had a falling out resulting in Kauffer firstly moving into a room at the newly opened Mount Royal Hotel at Marble Arch, and later installing himself in a hotel in Aix-en-Provence. With the uncertainty of still being able to employ Sidney on a daily basis Kauffer decided to place him in the design studio at Lund Humphries. Here he could work for both Lund Humphries (Peter Gregory) and Kauffer. Meanwhile Sidney reported to Kauffer by letter to the south of France on a weekly basis receiving long lists of instructions in return. One of Sidney’s lasting memories at Lund Humphries was meeting Henry Moore – “an awfully

nice man”.

Sidney A Garrad (SAG)
poster for BEA reproduced
in the Graphis Annual

Sidney went back to Lund Humphries after the war but was eventually made redundant. He tried his hand at freelancing, signing his work ‘SAG’ (Sidney Arthur Garrad), with moderate success but with a new wife and family to provide for he also worked as a telephonist at the International Exchange in the city of London.

I would love to contact Sidney Garrad's family, if anyone knows of them, please contact me

Part Two of McKnight Kauffer and Lund Humphries will discuss the revolutionary concept of a purpose built exhibition area within the 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.

Valerie Holman, Lund Humphries: Celebrating 75 Years of Art Book Publishing 1939 – 2014

Valerie Holman, Peter Gregory: Publisher, Patron, and Promoter of Contemporary British Art

Lucy Myers, Creating Henry Moore: The Story of the First Lund Humphries Artist Monograph


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