What is a Fore-Edge painting?

by Martin Frost

Unlike the spine and covers of a bookbinding, the page edges are not usually decorated, however…

A fore-edge painting is where the page block is fanned and an image applied to the stepped surface. If the page edges are themselves gilded or marbled, this results in the image disappearing when the book is relaxed. When re-fanned, the painting magically re-appears.



What is doubly amazing is that the page block can then be fanned in the opposite direction and a second painting discovered.


With large books, the text block can be split in half and painted separately. Each half can also be fanned in both directions, offering four painted images (Two-way split double).


Finally the top and bottom book edges can also be decorated, and if done so in both directions, can result in a total of twelve possible painted surfaces.

Fore-edge Painting has been a traditional English book art for centuries and is continued today by just a few artists, usually working on old, finely bound, pre-gilded books.

The magic transformation of a bright gilded book-edge into an intricate little painting never fails to delight.