Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Request to view at the Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D , Case MD, Shelf 1

Design

03/1934 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This is a design made by Edward McKnight Kauffer in February 1934 for the oil company Shell-Mex. It shows a variation on the robot-like figure known as Mechanical Man which featured in many Shell-BP advertisements.

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.
read What was Modernism? The built environment that we live in today was largely shaped by Modernism. The buildings we inhabit, the chairs we sit on, the graphic design that surrounds us have all been influenced by the aesthetics and the ideology of Modernist design. But what was Modernism?
object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Bodycolour and collage on card
Brief Description
Design drawing by Edward McKnight Kauffer for Shell-Mex BP, 1934
Physical Description
Design showing the robot-like figure of 'Mechanical Man' running and holding a spiral in one hand.
Dimensions
  • Height: 28.5cm
  • Width: 18.3cm
Style
Production typeDesign
Marks and Inscriptions
  • 'ARTIST E.Mc K.Kauffer / PRODUCT Shell Oil / DATE 3/34 / SEEN BY M.T.[illegible inscription] / JOB Nos. 4 L 169 / RACK No. USED Yes / SHELL MEX and B.P. Ltd.'
  • 'DESIGNED BY / 27.FEB.1934 / E.MCK. KAUFFER'
  • '85 screen / Reverse / Urgent '
Object history
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 demonstrate effectively and completely the design practice of this important and influential designer.
Historical context
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.
Subjects depicted
Summary
This is a design made by Edward McKnight Kauffer in February 1934 for the oil company Shell-Mex. It shows a variation on the robot-like figure known as Mechanical Man which featured in many Shell-BP advertisements.



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.
Bibliographic References
  • 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.
Collection
Accession Number
E.3770-2004

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record createdJune 30, 2009
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