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Updated: Feb 3, 2022

McKnight Kauffer Musings

Andrew Johnson
Airmen Prefer Shell
lorry bill / poster


British poster artist Andrew Johnson (1893 – 1973) designed one of the first posters in the series of Shell lorry bills which determined the kind of people who preferred Shell petroleum to all other brands. This poster, Airmen Prefer Shell, pre-dates the series which took off in the mid-1930s when, it was claimed, Doctors, Architects, Judges, and Scientists were the type of people who preferred Shell.

I can’t help thinking that the face of the handsome, yet serious, pilot was based on this photograph (undated) of McKnight Kauffer by the American photographer Francis Bruguière. Johnson was a skilled draftsman, and designed numerous posters for companies such as the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) in the 1930s. I do not know if Johnson and McKnight Kauffer knew each other.

Observing McKnight Kauffer's brushed back hairstyle in the Bruguière portrait in my collection (below), it appears the two photos were probably taken at the same sitting.

Coincidentally Bruguière was born in San Francisco in 1879, and ran a photographic studio and business at the same time that McKnight Kauffer was living there and working in the Paul Elder bookshop (1910-1912). It is possible they first met in San Francisco. In 1919 Bruguière moved his business to New York, and in 1927 he came to live in London. He experimented with photographic processes of multi-exposed images, solarisation, and many other techniques. I think the shadowy figure wearing a hat in the background of the photo below (titled Couple Embraced) might be McKnight Kauffer.

Bruguière collaborated with McKnight Kauffer on a number of projects, including working on advertisements and catalogues for Charnaux, a specialist latex corset and underwear manufacturer (Kauffer also collaborated with Man Ray on projects for the same company). In 1932, soon after the publishers and printers Lund Humphries moved their London office to 12 Bedford Square McKnight Kauffer was instrumental in setting up an exhibition area, with a showroom designed by the architects Stanley Hall, Easton and Robertson. Marion Dorn designed the floor covering. An exhibition of photographs by Francis Bruguière and some in collaboration with E. McKnight Kauffer was the first exhibition to be staged in the showroom, opening on 4 December 1933. The invitation card to the exhibition was, of course, designed by Kauffer

The crumpled Radio Times cover image for “January” is curious. It is possibly a rough design by McKnight Kauffer that was not used. Although he had designed Christmas covers for the journal previously, the masthead always appeared in a serif typeface - except in this outlandish art deco cover he designed in 1929.

Bruguière remained living in England, turning to painting and sculpture in his later years. His ashes are buried in Middleton Cheney cemetery, the village in Northamptonshire where he spent his final years. A Bruguière archive exists in the George Eastman Museum, Rochester, N.Y.


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