Monday, February 18, 2013

Fore-Edge Painting

Over all the centuries of book production, artists have painted images on the cover and the spine and the inside pages, but artwork has been bestowed on another part of the book called the "fore-edge." 

This is the area of the book you would see if you take the pages of the closed book and fan them out in one direction. The surface is composed of hundreds of tiny "steps" of individual pages spread out in series. When the book is closed normally, the edges of the book are simply colored with gold, and the painting disappears.

 The art form reached its peak in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as collectors hired painters to create these ingenious novelties. It's hard to track down the names of the individual artists because they generally didn't sign their work. 
One of the great collections is in The Boston Public Library, whose website has more examples and explanation.
Video of a collector explaining the art form  
Thanks, Dick Hopkinson


Jennifer Rose said...

that is so cool! If I had of known this as a kid, I would have been trying to see if they were paintings on any old book I could find :p

Nancy said...

That's an accurate description of fore-edge painting. A much older painting technique on the fore-edge is called "fore-edge decoration" (to distinguish it from "fore-edge painting"), which is any painting or other decoration such as gilding and gauffering that is visible when the book is closed. This was done throughout the medieval period and included designs ranging from geometric to portraits of the book's author. (In the medieval period, books were often shelved with fore-edge outward, and the fore-edge was used as a labeling surface instead of the spine.)

Why yes, I am a book geek. :-)

Nancy Hulan

Pyracantha said...

Some of these "hidden image" fore-edge paintings were pornographic. They were hidden in otherwise neutral books. I have seen examples of this at a rare book shop.