Fore-edge Painting

Time Period
16,000 BCE to 1622 CE
1623 to 1763
Topics
Art & Architecture
Curiosities
Domestic Life

Rarely are books prized as objects of art; often the content of the text, or the plates accompanying the text, are regarded with higher intrinsic value than the construction of the book. However, bookbinding is an art form in itself, and elaborate bindings may garner more interest than the actual text. Such is the case with fore-edge paintings, as often they are unique embellishments to otherwise less significant, mass-produced bound books.

The Life and Times of Oliver Goldsmith by John Forster and The Percy Anecdotes by Sholto and Reuben Percy

Fore-edge paintings, watercolor scenes painted on the unbound edge of a book, were popularized in the seventeenth century by the Edwardses of Halifax, a family of English bookbinders. Some examples of fore-edge paintings are visible when the book is closed, although more elaborate examples are only visible by fanning the leaves, or spreading the pages. The paintings are created by clamping the fanned leaves in place to create a surface on which to paint. Once the scene is painted and has dried, the clamp is removed and the fore-edge is gilded.

Image
ND2370.M6.Rare_.jpg
Image
PR3493.F73.1855.Rare_.OliverGoldsmith_cropped.jpg
Image
Picture of Crawford's Washington Monument and view of the tomb of President James Monroe, Richmond, Va.
Picture of Crawford's Washington Monument and view of the tomb of President James Monroe, Richmond, Va.
Each of the ten volumes of The Percy Anecdotes (a miscellaneous collection of articles that was originally published in forty-four parts) has a fore-edge painting of Virginia scenes. (The Percy Anecdotes, volume 6; VHS call number: Rare Books PN6261 P42 1820)