A fore-edge painting is decoration painted on the edges of a book’s pages for beautification. The fore-edge of a book is the fourth edge - not the spine, the top, or the bottom edge, but the outside edge that a reader would use to thumb through the pages. Originally, this edge was only used for identification, to more easily spot a book when the edges faced outward.
Around the 16th century, an Italian artist named Cesare Vecellio (cousin of celebrated Renaissance painter Titian) began to use the fore-edge of books as a canvas, and took the opportunity to make books more beautiful. The first instances of decorative fore-edge paintings were applied outright on the edges of the leaves, easily visible to anyone who cared to look when the book was closed.
In the 17th century, one of the Queen’s Binders (a group of highly skilled English bookbinders during the Restoration period) took the skill one step further by discovering that if one painted on the slight inner edges of the pages, then gilded or marbled the outside page edges, the scene would be undetectable when the book was closed, and only reveal itself when the pages were fanned slightly, creating a disappearing, re-appearing masterpiece.
See our video on What is a Fore-Edge Painting on a Book. › Play Video
1864. This is a fabulously old book with a beautiful hidden split fore-edge. When the book is open in half, the edges display beautifully.
1887. Scene with hunters on horseback chasing a fox. On the top edge you can see the artist's sense of humor as the man is falling off the horse.
1883. Under the gilt is a fore-edge by Martin Frost of a Mark Twain in the center, and in the background are the paddle boats on the Mississippi.
1883. Under the gilt is a fabulous fore-edge painting done by Martin Frost, which is signed. It is of "The Time Machine".
1777. Rare two-volume set of Duncan & Whitworth “Cicero” with original Edward of Halifax bindings. Also, each book has a fore-edge scene, likely contemporary to the book itself.
1856. Hidden under the gilt is a fore-edge painting of the “Elephant Man” painted and signed by Martin Frost. Volume two.
1901. Magnificent fore-edge painting executed by Martin Frost after famous Edward Burne-Jones painting, "Songs of Praise".
1883. Hidden under the gold gilt is a fabulous fore-edge painting by Martin Frost depicting a barber's shop with monkeys as the barbers and customers.
1809. The lovely fore-edge painting is of "The Death of Procris" after Piero di Cosimo and is in excellent condition.
1976. This fore-edge painting was one of 10 specially commissioned for Chas. J. Sawyer in 1976 by Don Noble - a contemporary of Martin Frost.
1617. John T. Beer, a successful clothier and avid book collector, turned to fore-edge painting in his retirement; his paintings were produced 1884-1900.
1879. Has a hidden fore-edge painting of Julius Caesar with Roman warriors, in full uniform, with weapons on foot, going to battle.
1776. Devotional work on guardian angels; unusual fore-edge painting shows three scenes of guardian angels warding off the devil.
1812. Lovely fore-edge painting, showing a London view with River Thames and Blackfriars' Bridge, with the cupola of St. Paul's towering in the background.
1800. Rare original Edwards of Halifax binding and fore-edge painting. The scene shows an English country town.
1822. With an attractive and detailed contemporary fore-edge painting depicting Douglas, Isle of Man, the harbor ringed in hills, and more.
1869. Fore-edge painting done by and signed by Martin Frost. It is an edge of a Jerusalem scene with horses, soldiers in armor, and more.
1813. With an especially fine fore-edge painting of the Castle of Chillon and 11 works, including five firsts, by Byron.
1905. Handsomely bound in a fine signed leather binding by Bumpus Ltd., Oxford. Enhanced with a charming full color fore-edge painting.
1856. There is a full face portrait of Hare on the left and on the right is a full front portrait of Burke, and in the middle is a cemetery scene. Fantastic edge for any collector.
No date. This book was sold to raise funds for Dr. William Pettus' Chinese language school in Beijing in the late 1930s to early 1940s.
1837. Chapman and Hall, London. First edition of this title. Lovely vertical fore-edge painting, all edges gilt.
1928. Rebound in full morocco by Temple Bookbinders, this copy also has a fore edge painting by Martin Frost of Lady Chatterley and Mellors.
No date. With an excellent vertical fore-edge painting, surrounded by a leafy border, of three children on a sled with dog romping along beside.
1900. Each of the volumes is in full morocco gilt extra in various colors, some with inlays to bindings and each has an original fore-edge painting.