Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Design
  • Design
    Kauffer, Edward McKnight, born 1890 - died 1954
  • Enlarge image

Design

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    30/03/1933 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Kauffer, Edward McKnight, born 1890 - died 1954 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pencil, pen and ink, and gouache on paper

  • Museum number:

    E.3777-2004

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case MD, shelf 1

This design, showing the large capital letters 'TEL', which stand for 'tetra-ethyl lead' (an anti-knock additive in gasoline or petrol that can prevent premature detonation in the engine), and 'BP', which stands for 'British Petroleum', was one of the versions designed for the advertising campaign of Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. for tetra-ethyl lead by Edward McKnight Kauffer in 1933. Amongst these design versions, only a few were used, and this was one of them.

Kauffer is widely recognised as a leading innovator in graphic design in 1930s Britain, and many consider him to have been the greatest poster designer of the first half of the 20th century. He was employed by Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd., which was arguably the most progressive British company in terms of its marketing profile in this period, and helped the company project an image associated with Modernism, technical advances and modern life-styles.

Physical description

This design shows the three large, outlined capital letters 'TEL' above which is the Earth with a backdrop of pitch black universe and a few stars. To the left of the Earth, a Saturn-like London Underground symbol can be seen indicating the concept of transportation. The letters 'BP', the name of the company, is at the lower right side in the same size as TEL but in a different font.

Place of Origin

London (designed)

Date

30/03/1933 (designed)

Artist/maker

Kauffer, Edward McKnight, born 1890 - died 1954 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Pencil, pen and ink, and gouache on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'DESIGNED BY / 30 MAR. 1933 / E. MCK. KAUFFER'
In typewritten ink in the centre on the back of paper. The date indicates when this design was made.

'Cat No.1111'
In pencil marked with a box in the centre on the back of paper

'2903'
In pencil upside down at the lower side on the back of paper

'57/43'
In pencil upside down in the centre on the back of paper

'ARTIST E. Mc.K. Kauffer / PRODUCT BP Plus DATE 11/4/33 / SEEN BY M.T. / JOB Nos. (10) B.128 15"x3e / RACK No. USED Yes / SHELL MEX and B.P. Ltd.'
In typewritten ink and pen on a blue form glued on the back of paper. Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. probably used this form to keep a record of artists' designs.

'McKK.'
In pen to the bottom right side of the upper box. They are the initials for McKnight Kauffer.

Dimensions

Height: 37.9 cm design, Width: 17.2 cm design, Height: 45.7 cm sheet, Width: 28.7 cm sheet

Object history note

This design along with other designs for Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. were until recently part of the Shell-BP Archive housed in Warwick University. Following a programme of digitisation, they were considered redundant and sold at auction. This coherent group of design was assembled by Hilary Gerrish and Neil Jennings from a variety of muscellaneous lots.

One highlight of this collection is the Shell or Mechanical Man, which featured in many Shell-BP advertisements, is one of the UK's most famost 'brand' characters. Other highlights include three finished brilliantly coloured gouache drawings for petrol pump designs, unused, one of which was illustrated in the seminal book on Kauffer by Mark Haworth-Booth (E. McKnight Kauffer: A Designer and His Public, 1979, p.74). A letter and design work relate to the important Shell Graphic Design Agency set up in 1932; there are also a number of workings-out, with alternative versions, for campaigns including the Aero-Shell and TEL (tetra-ethyl lead, an anti-knock fuel). The design drawings themselves demonstrate a wide range of innovative techniques including photomontage, collage and airbrush.

Historical significance: Edward McKnight Kauffer was a leading exponent of the Modern style. He is widely recognised as a cutting-edge shaper of graphic design in 1930s Britain, and many consider him to have been the greatest poster designer of the first half of the 20th century.

Although V&A's existing holdings of Kauffer's work include designs and posters, they are almost exclusively finished presentation drawings. This design along with other designs for Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. show much more vividly the working out of ideas and the thinking that underpins the design process itself and therefore allow V&A to demostrate effectively and completely the design practice of this important and influential designer.

Historical context note

Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd., which was formed in 1932, was arguably the most progressive British company in terms of its marketing profile in this period. Under the inspired patronage of its advertising manager Jack Beddington (1893-1959), who in 1929 first employed Edward McKnight Kauffer, a number of talented avant-garde artists were commissioned to help the company project an image associated with Modernism, technical advances and modern life-styles.

Descriptive line

Design drawing by Edward McKnight Kauffer for Shell Mex and B.P. Ltd. in 1933

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Haworth-Booth, Mark. E. McKnight Kauffer: A designer and his public. London: Gordon Fraser, 1979.
Haworth-Booth, Mark. E. McKnight Kauffer: a designer and his public. London: V&A Publications, 2005.

Production Note

Reason For Production: Commission

Materials

Pencil; Ink; Gouache; Paper

Techniques

Drawing techniques; Painting techniques

Subjects depicted

Transportation; Fuel; Gasoline

Categories

Advertising; Designs; Drawings

Production Type

Design

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.