From a description on the Boston Public Library’s The Lost Art of Fore-Edge Book Painting website, “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.”
The concept is perhaps best illustrated with this simple, short video.
The art of fore-edge painting, once very fashionable, now mostly forgotten, survives through the amazing work of British artist Martin Frost who has decorated over 3,000 books with fore-edge art and its variations such as two-way, split and all-edges paintings.
The Frankenstein piece, recently valued on eBay at over $1,600, is part of a set painted on three volumes of an 1856 British Poets anthology. The other books feature Burke and Hare, and the Elephant Man.
Interestingly, the art here is entirely inspired by classic Frankenstein films, as opposed to Mary Shelley’s vastly different descriptions. Framed at center, we recognize the movies’ boxhead, bolt-necked Monster. To the left, that’s Colin Clive operating Kenneth Strickfaden’s mad lab equipment as The Monster rests on his elevator slab. At right, Karloff’s Monster toppling the Bishop statue is from the cemetery scene in Bride of Frankenstein.
Martin Frost’s fore-edge art makes for an unusual and unique contribution to Frankenstein art.
Martin Frost’s very comprehensive website.
A Martin Frost workshop on John Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries website.
The Boston Public Library’s fascinating On the Edge website, featuring a large gallery of historical examples.