Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Binding Paintings of Helen R. Haywood

by Stephen J. Gertz

During the mid-1920s, Riviere & Son, the highly esteemed British bindery, produced a handful of bindings featuring watercolor paintings on calf to their covers or doublures. Some of these bindings featured a  bound-in leaf identifying the painter and with her signature, others were anonymous.

All were executed by Helen R. Haywood after original designs by others.  Who was she?

Her middle initial tells us all we need to know; the "R" stands for Riviere. English painter and childrens book illustrator Helen R. Haywood was bindery founder Robert Riviere's granddaughter; her mother, Mabel, was Riviere's ninth and final child.

For this unsigned binding of a copy of the first edition of Tennyson's In Memoriam (London: Edward Moxon, 1850) Haywood painted on calf the central illustrations to the upper and lower covers after an (as yet, to me) unknown work, surrounded by a typically lavish and extravagantly gilt Riviere frame, a riot of arabesque and floral inlaid motifs. As with so many Riviere bindings of the first decades of the twentieth century, there's enough gilt-work to give 007 villain, Goldfinger, an orgasm. Contrary to Goldfinger's practice of gilding every inch of his girlfriends' bodies, however, these bindings didn't die as a result; they, instead, became immortal.

For the above copy of a first edition of Dickens' Little Dorrit (Bradbury and Evans, 1857) Haywood painted the upper calf doublure with a reproduction of one of Hablot K. Brown's (aka "Phiz") original illustrations for the book.

For the above binding to a later issue of Walton's The Compleat Angler (London: John Lane  The Bodley Head Limited, 1926), Haywood painted its calf doublures with reproductions of two of Edmund H. New's illustrations for this edition.

Lower doublure.

After what appears to have been a free-lance apprenticeship at her grandfather's bindery, Helen R. Haywood  embarked on a career as a childrens book writer and illustrator. "Her books were published by  [amongst others] Thomas Nelson Ltd through the 1950s and 1960s. She created a series of books based around the character Peter Tiggywig and friends. Other work includes Master Mouse the Madcap (1958), and Animal Playtime and Animal Worktime which appeared in the Look With Mother series, and Aesop's Fables (1965)" (Wiki). The Helen Haywood Christmas Book (Hutchinson's Books for Young People, 1952), The Discontented Pool (Hutchinson, c.1955), Dawdles Duckling (Hutchinson, 1940), and Patsy Mouse (Ward, Lock, 1947) are others titles for which she earned renown.

Calf is a difficult medium to paint in watercolors. The leather soaks up watercolor like a sponge but more to the point calf ages darkly and the colors soon mute to dusk. For that reason it is somewhat miraculous that the paintings Haywood did for the copy of In Memoriam above have remained bright while the doublure paintings to Little Dorrit and The Compleat Angler have considerably toned.

These three examples of Haywood's calf paintings passed through my hands within the last year. There are, undoubtedly, more to be identified. Slips like the above will obviously attribute her work but if unsigned on a binding by Riviere there is no doubt as to who the artist is. Nobody else was doing it. The artist has to be Helen Riviere Haywood.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

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