Poster of the Week – Winter Sales

WintersalesKauffer
Winter Sales, E. McKnight Kauffer, 1921
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While the hustle and bustle of the New Year sales may now seem like a distant memory, winter appears reluctant to say goodbye. Perhaps the best remedy for such inclement weather (beyond just staying indoors!) is to go out and indulge in some retail therapy. Not such a new solution, as suggested by this 1921 poster by E. McKnight Kauffer.

Guest Blog by Brian Webb, designer and Visiting Professor at the University of the Arts, London

It would be easy to choose almost any of over 100 posters Edward McKnight Kauffer designed for London Transport, but at the top of the list has to be his 1921 ‘Winter Sales are best reached by Underground’.

Edward Kauffer was born in Montana in 1890 and after an unsettled childhood he left home to become a scene painter in a travelling theatre. By 1910 he was in San Francisco, taking art classes by night and working in a bookshop by day. One of the bookshop’s customers, Professor Joseph McKnight, offered to pay for Kauffer to study art in Europe – this was the time of benefactors who expected nothing in exchange. In recognition of his generosity Kauffer added McKnight’s name to that of his own.

En route for Europe, McKnight Kauffer stopped off in Chicago and saw the 1913 Armory show that had caused a sensation in New York, Americans used to realism were confronted with Cubism, Fauvism and Futurism. Arriving in Europe Kauffer visited Munich, seeing posters by Ludwig Hohlwein, and still with the intention of being a fine artist attended classes in Paris. At the outbreak of the First World War, heading back to New York, he stopped off in London and became involved with current art groups – the Vorticists and Omega workshops.

In 1915 Frank Pick commissioned Kauffer’s first London Transport poster. Kauffer quickly gave up the idea of fine art in favour of poster design. Winter Sales, 1921, is McKnight Kauffer’s ‘graduation piece’. It illustrates all he had learned in his travels. The composition has echoes of Duchamp’s ‘Nude descending a staircase’ that he had seen in Chicago. The monochrome figures and umbrellas lean into the diagonal shafts of rain and snow. The only colour, at the very top right of the image, is the welcoming entrance to the Underground, emphasised by the repeat of red in the line of lettering below.

Brian Webb
@webbandwebb
www.webbandwebb.co.uk

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