Thursday, January 03, 2008

Van Kaufman's Early Work?

When I recently discovered the work below in some late 40's and early 50's issues of Woman's Home Companion credited to Van Kaufman, I had to wonder... could this be the early work of the Van Kaufman, of "AF/VK" auto art fame?

On his website, Art Fitzpatrick, the "AF" half of the team writes, "[Van Kaufman] went from art school to Walt Disney Studios, where he became a key animator and director. He served in the Army Air Force in the war, producing and directing training films. Back to Disney, he then left to travel and live in Europe for a while, and then to New York and advertising and editorial art. In 1951 Fitz, having admired Van's art for an Italian Line campaign, suggested him for the backgrounds on the Mercury ads."

"That began a 24 year collaboration and a 43 year friendship that lasted until Van's death in 1995."

If Kaufman had a background in animation it makes sense that his style around 1950 could easily have that this sort of semi-cartoony quality. And could there really have been two Van Kaufmans, both doing editorial illustration in America in the 50's? I suppose... but it doesn't seem likely.

Still, this work is a far cry from the kind of paintings Van Kaufman did to surround Art Fitzpatrick's gorgeous car paintings, like the example at the bottom of this post. Unfortunately, Fitz does not provide an email address on his website so I was not able to contact him to verify if this is the work of his long-time partner.

But speaking of Art Fitzpatrick, he recently left a comment on a post I wrote some time ago, correcting some factual errors and letting us know what he's been up to - still going strong at age 89:

"As an OLD admirer of Bernie Fuchs talents," writes Fitz, "I want to be diplomatic about correcting somebody. In an earlier showing you erred, with this Olds ad among a group of our Pontiac ads. Van and I were doing our thing a few years before Bernie ever did a car ad. I started in'45 on the '46 Mercury account, got Van in on it in'49, I had 5 car accounts at one time in '52, signed an exclusive deal with Buick in '53, brought Van along on that. Olds and Mercury were instructing ad agencies to copy Pontiac."

"I'm 89, doing my paintings on a MAC G5. I just finished 2nd set of 5 USPS stamps, consulted on PIXAR'S film "CARS", and co-authored and did 15 illustrations for book with Jim Wangers … "Pontiac PIZAZZ".

Art Fitzpatrick

Today's images are located in my van Kaufman Flickr set.


  1. By comparison his cartooning was functional where his car stuff just sang...and on key!

    Hard to beat.


  2. It doesn't surprise me that the two entirely different styles are probably by the same illustrator. It was not at all unusual in those days, to develop a number of entirely different styles, depending on the assignment. My first job out of art school was for a "fast
    track" , "down and dirty", "nuts & bolts" art studio. I had to learn and adapt to not only different styles of illustration (such as realism, cartoon, fashion, decorative, etc.)... but I was expected to do layout, graphic design, illustration, art direction, type design, paste up, print production and more. The more versatile you were, the more opportunity there was. Experience was the magic word. I also was never bored, unchallenged or burned out in my 40 year career.

    Tom Watson

  3. Tom;

    Your experience sounds very much like my own early days working in house at O&M in Toronto. That constant change in style certainly keeps the work interesting. I miss having the opportunity to do such a wide variety of artwork.

    If the scenario you describe is in fact how Van Kaufman worked as well, I'm all the more curious to see what sort of work caught Art Fitzpatrick's attention - and convinced him to offer Kaufman the partnership for doing auto illustrations.

    Who knows? perhaps I've looked at MANY unsigned Van Kaufman paintings in the ads that fill these old magazines and not realized it...

  4. Glad to hear you are all still enjoying my dads work. I have many of his last works hanging in my office. These early pictures are his, and I have quite a few more in storage. I also have the original insignia he drew while at Disney for the Wake Island Marines. We all love the car ads though, and I especially like the caribean ones, since I was there for all of them !! If you would like to chat about his work or life, contact me at . Kris Kaufman