The art world was preoccupied last week with a newly discovered van Gogh, but librarians at the University of Iowa recently showcased a neat find of their own: delicate landscape paintings hidden just inside the margins of four 19th-century books by Scottish writer Robert Mudie. The books concern the four seasons, and sometime after they were published, an unidentified artist adorned each book with seasonally themed art using a technique known as “fore-edge painting,” in which the book is fanned open using a special press, letting the artist create a painting across the tips of the pages that vanishes when the book is closed.
Fore-edge painting is an art form so discreet that examples of it can sit on dusty library shelves for decades without being discovered. That’s what happened at the University of Iowa, where a student brought them to the attention of librarian Colleen Theisen. The library posted GIF animations of the paintings being fanned open, then closed. The Boston Public Library also has a number of fore-edge paintings, which you can see at foreedge.bpl.org.