In this brief look at fore-edge paintings what have we learned? They followed the trends of the times. As the “picturesque” theme became popular it was emulated in fore-edge paintings, turning away from symmetrical designs. Scrolls, floral designs and biblical scenes were replaced by William Gilpin's inspirations.

In general the artists executing the fore-edge paintings were copying other works. Painting popular works or imitating styles helped sell books. In fact many books may have sold for the painting rather than the content. We also know that paintings were not always contemporary with the book, for example, Thomas Edwards may have added scenes to promote the sale of certain books after he had them in his shop for a few years. Also, typically very little is known about the painters. A painting may be signed or we may know that an artist worked for a particular binder but usually little beyond that.

English poets were the most popular subject to apply a painting to, especially Sir Walter Scott, William Cowper and John Milton. Bibles, Greek and Latin classics, books dealing with travel, and sports were also popular. Fore-edge painting reached its most productive time during the early nineteenth century, from 1800 to1825, which coincides with the peak of Thomas Edwards career, forever linking the popularity of the art of fore-edge painting to the Edwards of Halifax.

John Ansley, M.A., M.L.S.
Head of Archives and Special Collections
Marist College
Poughkeepsie , N.Y.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels: Into Several Remote Regions of the World . London and New York : George Routledge and Sons, 1885. (From the George M. & Alice Gill Collection)


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