Unseen Collection of Adrian Feint Paintings from the Estate of Lesley Godden


A private collection of paintings by Adrian Feint, with significant provenance and representing a range of motifs and themes definitive to Feint’s work, are currently on view at Shapiro Auctioneers. The paintings were painted for and gifted to Lesley Godden, his close friend from the 1940s until his death in 1971. Previously unseen theatrically set flower pieces, with Pittwater and Sydney harbour backdrops, and as meticulously detailed landscape and architectural scenes of Palm Beach, are on view for the first time since they were painted in the late 1940s. Feint and Godden shared summers at Pittwater, captured in the paintings, which hung in Godden’s home until 2012.

Adrian Feint (1896- 1971) was a design polymath, known for bookplate design, illustration, gallery curatorship, interior decoration (including a room at the landmark Burdekin House exhibition of 1928) and paintings. Descended from a prominent rural landholder, he was well connected and, by the 1920s, lived and worked at the centre of Sydney’s art, design and publishing circles.

Lesley Godden (1913-2004), originally from Sydney’s inner west, worked at the Bank of NSW for over forty years, retiring in 1971 and lived with his sister and her husband from 1967 in French’s Forest. Though not religious himself, Les’s family were strict adherents and his background was conservative; fishing and golfing on the Sydney’s northern beaches were an escape from work and home. Godden met Feint, seventeen years his senior, in the Pittwater area through a group of mutual friends, probably in the early to mid 1940s. All the paintings in the sale date from this period of the late 1940s to early 1950s and locate the friendship in a pre-suburban Pittwater. The two were certainly close for many years and Godden kept a framed photo of Feint in his room until he died. Godden decorated his home with more than a dozen of Feint’s paintings, which were never moved from the wall - the wallpaper fading around them - never exhibited nor shown outside the home until now.

Since Godden and Feint spent much of their time fishing at Pittwater, the family has always understood that the figure of the lean, muscular young fisherman, which recurs in many of Feint’s paintings, is modelled on Les Godden.


The Collector

This sale features several motifs amongst Feint’s collections which recur again and again in his Still Life pictures; in such meticulously constructed paintings, no element was there by chance. Cornucopia shaped vases, classical urns, fruit, hibiscus, fallen blossoms, jugs and shells indicate characteristic references meaningful to Feint’s clientele.

The Staffordshire whippet in Lot 27 appears as Susan by Moonlight, 1944 (for which Lot 27 is likely a sketch) in Adrian Feint Flower Paintings, 1948, Plate 2 and again in Still life Staffordshire, 1938/39, Collection of the National Gallery of Australia. The whippet is mischievously reincarnated in the pencil sketch Untitled (Tasmanian tiger),1971, Collection of the New England Regional Art Museum, Armidale. The red patterned vase used in Lot 31, Study, Ranunculus and Sydney Harbour, 1949 had previously appeared in Arrangement in Red, 1947, Adrian Feint Flower Paintings, 1948, Plate 10.

Judd puts forward the theory that the theatrical props to the flower paintings such as the recurring vases and Staffordshire dogs 'suggest a personal but ultimately hidden narrative.'

They were part of a collection assembled with care over decades, acquisitions in tune with, according to David Dundas, 'his manner of life (which) was austere but civilised since early economies had enabled him to acquire beautiful examples of furniture, paintings and other objects.' The collected artefacts were sometimes players in a stage set style which nodded to Surrealism, a movement he had been exposed to through Ure Smith publications of the 1930s, adding to Judd’s ‘ambivalent atmosphere’ (which) ‘could also derive from the kinds of closures and encoding of the homosexual milieu he inhabited.'

Les Godden and the Fisherman figure

Lot 37

Les Godden’s family understanding, long held, is that the fisherman figure in Feint’s Palm Beach paintings of the 1940s and 50s was based on Les himself. The two spent their leisure time at the beach, fishing, and Les fit the physical type depicted, tall and lean. The solitary figure is, however, a motif which recurs in Feint’s paintings over decades, not only as a fisherman but also as a bather or simply the solitary youth.

If Les Godden was indeed the model, he was providing a physical expression of a theme which had occupied Feint since the 1920s. In Feint’s paintings the solitary figure assumes the same role as the youth in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912) and there is a common understanding for the viewer of what that represents – beautiful, golden, distant, glowing youth, impossible to reach. This type of youthful male figure appears as early as 1922 in The bathers, 1922, an etching in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide. Like the bather, Fisherman’s Shrine, an illustration drawn for the text of Adrian Feint Flower Paintings, 1948, p.25, the youth is naked, sensual, an athletic, muscular fisherman hauling his net at the beach, providing the background for a monumental urn and flower arrangement under a billowing canopy, with customary shell and fallen blossoms at its base. Despite the scale of the main theme of flowers, the eye is drawn to the naked fisherman and then out to sea to the men in a sailing boat.

The solitary figure is seen in Sketch for 'Sea Harvest', 1952, illustrated Adrian Feint Cornucopia, 2009, p.89 where the same hatted nude gathers his fishing nets in a fantasy beach backdrop to a bountiful shell and flower theatrical set. In Floral Cornucopia ,1957, illustrated Adrian Feint Cornucopia, 2009, p.63 the solitary figure, this time in shorts and hat, trudges towards the beach to fish, rod over his shoulder.

While the Les/fisherman/solitary youth figure is usually alone and in the background, Lot 37 puts him in the main narrative of the painting, loading a boat with fish and shells and with another youth for company, though this figure is dark, shadowy and obscured. Common to all the fisherman depictions is the idealising and sexualising of physical labour, in contrast to the model’s prosaic daytime job. While Lot 37 is not part of the Lesley Godden Collection, thematically and chronologically it is linked to its history.

AUCTION Monday 25 August 6pm Sydney


Saturday 16 - Monday 25 August 11am - 5pm

162 Queen Street Woollahra NSW


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