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McKnight Kauffer Travels Abroad

Updated: Feb 3, 2022

McKnight Kauffer Musings

E. McKnight Kauffer photograph by A [Anton?] Karg, Walschee, Austria August 1934 (Collection Graham Twemlow)
A. Karg was possibly the son of the more famous Anton Karg (1835-1919) – mountaineer and photographer

In McKnight Kauffer Musings I will share my reflections on the people he spent time with, on his role in connecting with them, and what the connections may have led to. This research has not been revealed or published elsewhere and I hope that it may contribute a more nuanced history of the graphic arts that acknowledges the significance of context and connections


These musings respond in part to a remark by the designer Lucienne Roberts, who says that, in her design of the of the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum exhibition Underground Modernist: E McKnight Kauffer (on until 10 April 2022) she wanted to highlight McKnight Kauffer’s network of contacts and connections

McKnight Kauffer Travels Abroad

Even as a young man McKnight Kauffer already possessed a charming manner and an engaging personality that seemed to attract fellow artists, writers and critics. The connections he made from the early days he spent in San Francisco set him on the winding path he was to follow. For two years he worked in the Paul Elder bookshop by day and attended classes at the Mark Hopkins Institute at night, occasionally exhibiting his works in the Paul Elder gallery. The story of how he received funds from a generous benefactor, Professor Joseph McKnight, enabling him to make a study period in Paris is well recorded (see pp. 10-11 Mark Haworth-Booth, E McKnight Kauffer: a designer and his public, V&A Publications, 2005)

In this Blog post I will expand upon what happened when he left San Francisco in September 1912, revealing a story that has not previously been told.

Originally planning to leave for Europe in October or November 1912, Kauffer was persuaded to attend classes at The Art Institute of Chicago before setting off. The artist Theodore J Keane was the most likely person who advised him this was a good idea. Keane was from San Francisco, and they almost certainly first met at the famous Paul Elder bookshop where Kauffer worked. Keane also worked there for a period of time as head of the art

department. Keane left San Francisco in 1910 to take up a post as Director of the Minneapolis Art Institute, but was to meet Kauffer again when he became Registrar at The Art Institute of Chicago in the summer of 1912, later being appointed Dean of the Art School – the first person to receive this position at the Institute. A further indication of Keane’s recommendation can be seen on Kauffer’s registration card for the Art Institute: “Came Through Friend Mr Theo Keane”.

It is interesting to note that he now called himself “Edward Leland Kauffer”. Although the given name on his birth certificate was Edward Kauffer, he sometimes signed works as Edward Le Kauffer or Edward L Kauffer, and eventually Edward Leland Kauffer (until he adopted McKnight as a middle name in homage to his benefactor). He had a step-brother, John L. Kauffer (b. 1879 / d.1904), from his father’s second marriage to Mildred Knox. It is almost certain the L. stood for Leland, named after Mildred’s father, Leland Coleman Knox. Edward Kauffer took over the middle name after John L’s premature death from complications following an appendicitis operation. It is strange that he should cite the nationality of parents as German as both his parents were born in the USA.

Kauffer attended The Art Institute of Chicago for two terms, studying on the Antique programme under the guidance of Finnish born artist, Elmer Forsberg.

The spring term finished on 23 March 1913. Soon afterwards, on 23 April 1913, he set sail for Europe accompanied by Samuel Linder, an artist friend he had met in Chicago. Linder, four years older than 22 year old Kauffer, was already an accomplished portrait painter. Born in Finland, then part of Russia in 1886, the family immigrated to Chicago in 1894.

Both Linder and Kauffer filled out their respective passport applications on the same day – each giving a forwarding name, L.D. Boronda, at an address in New York City, to collect their passports. Lester David Boronda had studied and later taught at the Mark Hopkins Institute in San Francisco. He exhibited widely in San Francisco, including the art gallery at the Paul Elder bookshop. He was highly thought of by critics for his California style paintings. It is not surprising that Kauffer sought him out as a friend and useful contact.

Mark Hopkins Art Staff, 1906, Lester Boronda on right

In an article in the literary journal Pearson’s Magazine (June 1920), Colin Hurry, an English friend Kauffer met in Paris, wrote that Kauffer had “roamed the Bavarian Alps with a friend”. The friend being Samuel Linder. It is widely reported that Kauffer spent some time in Munich – I’ve always wondered what drew him there, rather than go immediately to Paris as originally planned. It transpires that Linder was given a scholarship by The Art Institute of Chicago to go to Munich’s Academy of Fine Art, where he held the grand title of Vice President of the American Artists’ Club. American artists had been drawn to study there since the nineteenth century, but of course this arrangement was about to come to an end with the outbreak of WW1. It was in Munich that Kauffer encountered the poster art of Ludwig Höhlwein, an artist who was to become a strong influence in his first forays into poster design, although he might have come across Höhlwein’s work previously in an exhibition of German posters held at The Art Institute of Chicago in October 1912.

Linder returned to the USA in May 1914, residing now in New York. He changed his name to Carl Bennett Linder, establishing himself as a successful portrait painter. A curator at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mi., revealed that Lidner painted 9 portraits of the Ford family, including Henry Ford himself

Henry Ford
by Carl Bennett Lidner 1926

Later in life he lived at an expensive address, 36 Central Park South, New York. Coincidentally, he was living there at the same time as McKnight Kauffer and Marion Dorn were neighbours, at 40 Central Park South.

In 1910 Boronda married Ruby Drew, also an artist, in Monterey, before moving to live in New York City. I can only guess that Ruby and Lester Boronda, and two year old daughter Beonne (in later life Beonne was an accomplished sculptor, closely associated with art groups and the Mystic Museum of Art, Connecticut) were originally intending to travel to Paris with Kauffer and Linder, but a second child was born in July 1913 delaying their departure. Boronda was already well acquainted with the artworld in Europe, having studied both in Paris and Munich. The Boronda family did travel to Paris later in 1913 and may well have met up with Kauffer and Linder but had to flee the country at the outbreak of the WW1 in relatively desperate circumstances. They were repatriated on the French liner Rochambeau, leaving Le Havre on 28 August 1914, when the US Ambassador in Paris chartered two liners to carry 1200 US citizens from Europe back to the USA.

SS Rochambeau

Boronda established a picture framing business but continued to paint, later making his name specialising in

decorative wrought iron work.

Paintings and furnishings by Lester D Boronda, Baltimore Museum of Art

Meanwhile, Kauffer had met the concert pianist and teacher Grace Ehrlich in Paris and after a whirlwind romance they married on 7 July 1914. Grace Ehrlich had been in Paris for the past seven years, and according to the Syracuse Herald, the Ehrlich family’s local newspaper, the married couple intended to make Paris their home. They planned to spend their honeymoon in Munich but two weeks later they fled the country on the eve of WW1. Grace’s parents received a telegram to say that they were safe in England.

Edward Leland Kauffer and Grace Kauffer (Ehrlich), 1915 (from temporary American citizen application document)



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