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

Drawing

  • Place of origin:

    London (designed)

  • Date:

    25/06/1934 (designed)

  • Artist/Maker:

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

  • Museum number:

    E.3757:1, 2-2004

  • Gallery location:

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

This design, showing a robot-like figure by Edward McKnight Kauffer for Shell Mex and British Petroleum (B.P.) Ltd., was one of the designs for the advertising campaign for 'Shell Oil' in 1934. This Shell or Mechanical Man, which featured in many Shell-BP advertisements, has later become one of the UK's most famous 'brand' characters.

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.

Place of Origin

London (designed)

Date

25/06/1934 (designed)

Artist/maker

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

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., London, 1934

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

Techniques

Drawing techniques

Subjects depicted

Transportation; Lubricating oil

Categories

Advertising; Designs; Drawings

Production Type

Design

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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