Fore-Edge Painting Continues

Although fore-edge paintings are not as popular as they once were there are many examples of edge decoration from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One of the more talented artists during the early part of the twentieth century was C. B. Currie, who decorated more than 131 edges in the early part of the twentieth century (Swan 45). She signed and numbered her work and preferred to work with books that were 50 to 100 years old.

Another interesting chapter in this history took place in China . There are many Chinese fore-edge paintings that date from the period of 1936 to 1942. The first example was apparently brought over by an American who taught in Beijing . The idea caught on and artists began to apply edge decoration to modern European books. They quickly turned to older books and also books published in China and Japan . Biblical scenes were predominant, no matter what the subject of the book. Landscapes were also common and were often painted vertically rather than horizontally. The books tended not to be gilt-edged. Although many beautiful examples made their way to America , World War II put an end to books from China being exported to the United States (Weber 161).

Today, there are still artists who know the techniques and are highly regarded in the field of rare books. Martin Frost is probably the best-known and most talented contemporary artist practicing this book decoration technique. He is also the most prolific, having completed over 3,000 fore-edge paintings.

A final unusual feature of fore-edge paintings that is worth noting-- it is often difficult to determine if a fore-edge painting is actually contemporary with the binding of the book. Some clues to look for include: gilt edging that appears too bright or new for an old volume (this is an indication that the painting was recently added and new gilt applied); colors that appear too bright or intense, or the use of hues that were not available when the painting was executed; or an uneven, or choppy appearance. Fore-edge paintings that are contemporary with the bindings tend to be the most sought after by collectors. However, when well executed, old books with new paintings are also highly desirable and a joy to behold (assuming the buyer is aware of the nature of their purchase).


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last updated on April 5, 2006

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