Fore-Edge Styles Change
The earliest hidden fore-edge paintings were of floral designs, fleur-de-lys, and scrolls. Biblical scenes were also popular. Then in 1768 a forty-four year old parson named William Gilpin published An Essay Upon Prints: Containing Remarks Upon the Principles of Picturesque Beauty, the Different Kinds of Prints, and the Characters of the Most Noted Masters; Illustrated by Criticisms Upon Particular Pieces; to which are Added, Some Cautions that may be Useful in Collecting Prints . He was well known for his earlier book, A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honour a ble the Lord Viscount Cobham, at Stow , in which he criticized the highly structured landscaping, which was popular at the time and expounded on the virtues of natural scenery. Both works were tremendously popular and were the first of their kind to examine landscaping and natural beauty from an artistic point of view. Gilpin coined the term “picturesque” in his works, and defined the term as something that was capable of being pleasingly illustrated in painting. Gilpin's works were so influential and popular that many other books were published on similar topics. Apparently, William Edwards was also influenced by this new trend in popular literature. In 1769 his shop began producing many copies of Gilpin's works and other works on similar topics with “picturesque” fore-edge paintings (Weber 70). As Gilpin and others published new books, new fore-edge paintings were painted illustrating a scene from the book. This gave birth to the tradition in fore-edge painting of highlighting a scene from the book. Even after Gilpin died in 1804, and he and his works had been largely forgotten, picturesque scenes of one kind or another remained the predominant style of fore-edge paintings.
William Edwards seemed to understand what his customers wanted but he also painted what he was interested in as well (Weber 70). His early examples of fore-edge painting, when he was learning the technique, included floral designs. But scenes from the Bible were also favorite subjects of his. Early examples of fore-edge paintings by William Edwards and others tended to be fairly monochromatic but as the picturesque became popular the fore-edge paintings became more vivid.
It was apparently common for booksellers to have folios of samples from which their artist or artists worked (Swan 35). Therefore, a fore-edge design was frequently copied from another work and the same design might appear on several different books. The “Last Supper” may have been painted on various editions of the bible. Or scenes from famous works of art were chosen that seemed appropriate to a book and that the booksellers thought would be popular with their customers. Fore-edge paintings of the birthplace of the author of the book started appearing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century (Weber 85).
Thomas Edwards (1762 – 1834), the youngest of Williams' sons, is the best known member of the Edwards family for promoting the fore-edge painting (Swan 31). He seemed to have a particularly good sense for what his customers wanted. He would respond to the publics' interests in poetry, history, sporting books (hunting scenes were very popular), novels, etc. by producing editions of popular books with appropriate fore-edge paintings. He would also do the same for books such as Greek classics. By the time Thomas died in 1834 the art of fore-edge painting had been brought to new artistic levels. The influence of the Edwards family was widely felt especially among the booksellers in London . Faulders, another publisher and printer, was a contemporary of Edwards and imitated his style, as did the binders in Taylor and Hessey's shop (Weber 106).
The artists that created fore-edge paintings for the Halifax family or any other bindery are almost completely unknown. It is believed that in most cases the binder and painter were not one in the same, however, Thomas Gosden (1780-1840) is apparently an exception to this rule. They also tended not to sign their work but there are a few records indicating that both men and women practiced this art form. One man who did occasionally sign his work was Bartholomew Frye, and it is also know that he worked for William and Thomas Edwards (Weber 114-115).