You can now read 10 articles each month for free on BostonGlobe.com.

The Boston Globe

Ideas

Brainiac

Secret paintings on the edges of books

And more recent highlights from the Ideas blog

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.

Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than $1 a week