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E. McKnight Kauffer

Edward McKnight Kauffer was born in Montana, USA, in 1890. He worked as a scene painter before undertaking his formal training in California and Chicago. In 1913, thanks to the generosity of Professor Joseph McKnight, he went to study in Paris, but in 1914, the outbreak of war forced him to move to London. In 1915 he was commissioned by London Transport, and by 1921, had given up painting in favour of poster design, working for the London Transport Board and the Great Western Railway amongst others. He also began to design for the stage.

As well as productions for small theatres and the Stage Society, he designed Shakespeare's Othello for Ernest Milton (1932) and Gordon Daviot's Queen of Scots for John Gielgud (1934). His first and only ballet was Checkmate (1937). He returned to America in 1940, and after World War II worked for American Airlines, as well as producing book covers and illustrations.

In May 1940, the Vic-Wells Ballet was forced to leave the costumes for Checkmate in Holland when they fled the German invasion, so in 1947, he re-created his costumes for the Company, redesigning many as he went along. It is this redesign that the Company uses today. Kauffer's connections to the artistic avant-garde in France and Britain placed him at the forefront of developments in the visual language of advertising during the 1930s. He now ranks as one of the most significant designers of the 20th century. He died in 1954.

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