Digital Commonwealth

Fore-Edge Paintings

Boston Public Library

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In 1945, Albert H. Wiggin began to form the fine collection of fore-edge paintings that, upon his death in May 1951, came to the Boston Public Library. It is one of the largest collections in this country, surpassed in size only by the Estelle Doheny Collection that is housed in the Edward Laurence Doheny Memorial Library at St. John's Seminary, Camarillo, California, which is roughly twice as large. The Wiggin Collection contains 258 volumes, some of which are the unusual double fore-edge paintings, and is to the best of our knowledge the largest in a public collection.

The painting done on the fore-edge of a book, and known as a fore-edge painting, is visible only when the pages of the book are carefully fanned, in the same manner as when the artist was painting the picture. When the book is closed the painting disappears under the gold leaf of the edge. During the course of the history of the fore-edge painting, it was realized that after one painting was finished it was possible to paint another, fanning the book in the opposite direction and working very carefully. These are known as double fore-edge paintings. The work itself is done in watercolor, very dryly.

Locations in this Collection: