Inside the Cover: The Bookplates of Adrian Feint

Above: Adrian Feint, Bookplate for Ursula Hayward, 1937, woodcut. Collection of the Carrick Hill Trust; donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017. Below: Max Dupain, Adrian Feint, 1939, gelatin silver photograph. Collection of Carrick Hill Trust; donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2017.

 

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Katarina Klaric explores the bookplates of Adrian Feint.

Adrian Feint (1894-1971) belonged to Sydney’s vanguard of stylish modernity in the 1920s and ’30s, to which he contributed a keen sense of innovative design in both his commercial and personal artistic endeavours. His graphic art capabilities were employed by the prominent cultural figure Sydney Ure Smith, in both his advertising agency, Smith & Julius, as well as in his influential art and lifestyle publications Art in Australia and The Home. Feint also found success in his landscape and flower oil paintings to which he dedicated the latter part of his career. However, it could very well be argued that it was in his ingenious skill at creating bookplates that he achieved mastery above all else. The recent exhibition Carrick Hill exhibition, Inside the Cover: The bookplates of Adrian Feint (7 March-30 June) highlighted his prolific output of bookplates, the adroit inventiveness of their designs, and the patrons for whom they were made.

These bookplates have been recently donated to Carrick Hill by collector Richard King, who has managed to bring together all but five of the 221 that Feint designed. The significance of their place at this institution lies in the relationship the artist had with the original owners, Edward (Bill) and Ursula Hayward, who were great patrons of the arts and knew and supported Feint during his career. The Haywards were established members of Australia’s cultural milieu, regularly providing their hospitality to prominent visitors to Adelaide and arranging exhibitions to promote artists they admired. They were thus linked to a broad network of people, many of whom ended up with a personalised bookplate by Adrian Feint.

Bookplates have a history almost as long as books themselves, and are essentially markers of ownership, thus commonly referred to as ex libris (from the books of…). Their significance traditionally lies in ensuring a claim on the object itself, books customarily holding the status of precious object, as well as acting as miniature representations of their owner, as one’s library was often seen as an extension of oneself. For this reason, bookplates often internalise their function in that they tend to contain personalised motifs that reflect the patron in a personal or symbolic way.

Feint’s bookplate for Ursula Hayward depicts a bust of a woman, presumably representing her, looking outwards through a curtained window onto a vista bearing resemblance to Carrick Hill’s view of Adelaide, where land melds into sea. Books are scattered around, reflecting the patron’s love of literature and the arts, and what appears to be boards of canvas upon which the bust’s reflection casts a shadow – perhaps representing Ursula’s nurturing influence on the work of artists she supported. This wood-engraving used three colours, with two of the original blocks also on show in the exhibition. Most of Feint’s bookplates used only one colour, usually black, dark green, dark blue or brown, though there are a number of examples with two or three used together.

Feint took up etching in the early 1920s, exhibiting with the Australian Painter-Etchers’ Society, and the Society of Artists, Sydney, and later becoming a regularly featured artist in The Australian Ex Libris Society, formed in 1923.[1] His first wood-engravings were made in the late 1920s while studying design with Thea Proctor, with whom, along with Margaret Preston, he worked closely through The Home magazine and interior design projects.[2] Grosvenor Galleries, which Feint co-founded with book-binder Walter Taylor in 1924, operated below Proctor’s studio on George Street, Sydney. The relationship between Feint and these artists is represented in the exhibition not only in the bookplates he made for them, but also in portraits with him as the subject, both Thea Proctor and Margaret Preston respectively having made sketches of him. There is also an oil painting by Nora Heysen made in 1940, where Feint’s dapper demeanor and introspective countenance is successfully captured, and his occupation as an artist-craftsman reflected in the etching and engraving instruments that he holds in his hands.

Besides artists, bookplates were commissioned from a great range of musicians, businessmen, politicians, writers (including Patrick White and Frank Clune), and even members of the British Royal family, including the Duke and Duchess of York and the Prince of Wales. This illustrious patronage indicates how highly esteemed Feint’s work as a bookplate artist was, and that his acclaim was internationally renowned. Even in America he won recognition when he was awarded first prize in a competition held by the Bookplate International Association in 1930, and later that year held a solo exhibition at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C., organised by the American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers.[3]

Feint’s talent in this field is evinced by his ability to produce so many unique miniature works for such a great variety of patrons, reflecting their own sense of character or position within the framework of his own artistic sensibility. There are some common themes that feature in numerous bookplates, namely maritime scenes and floral arrangements. His Elizabeth Bay apartment had an enviable view of Sydney Harbour which explains ships and boats as a favoured subject, yet it is remarkable how he was able to render the reoccurring element of water in a different style for every print – he was rarely formulaic. Flowers were always a specialty for Feint and he largely resigned from commercial and graphic work altogether in 1938 so that he could concentrate on oil painting and develop the floral still-lifes with which he is now closely associated. Adrian Feint was a man of many talents but his contribution to the art of the bookplate in Australia and abroad is especially worthy of mention, which this exhibition commendably brought to attention.

[1] Richard King, ‘Adrian Feint’s Bookplates’, Adrian Feint: Cornucopia. Ed. Richard Heathcote, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2009, p. 32.

[2] Roger Butler, ‘Biography’, Adrian Feint: Cornucopia. Ed. Richard Heathcote, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2009, p. 12.

[3] Richard King, ‘Adrian Feint’s Bookplates’, Adrian Feint: Cornucopia. Ed. Richard Heathcote, Adelaide: Wakefield Press, 2009, p. 33.