Keith Cunningham Archive

Scope and Content

The archive relates to all stages of Cunningham's career, a large proportion comprising files which were stored in a red filing cabinet in the studio and which cover the range of his activities.

The material documents his graphic and exhibition design commissions, including work for Peter Owen publishers, the National Book League and the Israeli airline El Al, as well as speculative and published work in the field of educational toys and children's publishing. Cunningham was involved in a project to publish a book about Piet Zwart and Josef Albers, and the archive includes documentation of this project, including mock-ups. Other possible projects include a book on Handwriting and one on Business Etiquette. Small amounts of material relate to Cunningham's work at David Jones in Australia and at the Central School of Art. A group of contact sheets and notes document sitters for some of Cunningham's paintings. A box of cassettes relate to the development of children's characters and to Cunningham's portrait painting.

Administrative / Biographical History

Keith Cunningham was a graphic designer and painter, although his paintings were unseen from the late 1950s until his death. In was married to Bobby Tillson, an illustrator for 'Vogue' magazine who went on the set up the Fashion MA course at St Martin's School of Art.

Born in Sydney, Australia, Cunningham left school at the age of 15 and worked in the art department of the renowned department store David Jones. There he got to know the designer Gordon Andrews, who became a mentor and supporter, encouraging him to take evening classes at East Sydney Technical College.

At the age of 20, Cunningham travelled to London, and studied Graphic Design at Central School of Art, having been interviewed by Jessie Collins. When Gordon Andrews came to London shortly afterwards to work as a consultant for the Design Research Unit, Cunningham became his assistant, working on a variety of projects including those related to the Festival of Britain in 1951.

In 1952 Cunningham took a place the RCA, this time to study painting, where his fellow students included Joe Tilson, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff. A bursary gave him some freedom and allowed travel around Europe as a break in his studies. Also in this period he exhibited in the Royal Academy Summer exhibition, the Beaux Arts Gallery, and the London Group, and was supported by Hans and Elsbeth Juda, of the 'Ambassador' magazine.

Cunningham worked freelance as a designer, on book covers for Peter Owen publishers, and for the Economist, among other projects, and taught part time at the London College of Printing. At some point in this period, he made a decision to stop exhibiting and to paint as a purely private activity, funded by his design work. His rich output of paintings came to public attention after his death in 2014.


The collection is uncatalogued.

Access Information

Researchers wishing to consult the collection should make an appointment. Telephone 44 (0)1273 643217 or email

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the Cunningham estate in 2015

Archivist's Note

Record created by Sue Breakell

Conditions Governing Use

Permission must be sought to publish any material from the collection. Email

Appraisal Information

Duplicate, personal (including non-professional financial materials) were weeded at the time of its collection from Cunningham's Battersea studio.

Custodial History

The archive was stored in Cunningham's studio in Battersea, in filing cabinets and plan chests. It was largely unseen until his death.


This collection will not accrue.