Monday, February 1, 2016

Fore-edge paintings

Brandeis University’s Special Collections is home to over 10,000 rare books, a host of treasures which includes myriad first editions, holy texts, incunabula, miniature books, illustrated manuscripts, and early Shakespeare folios. Among these gems lie twenty-two books boasting a rare, hidden, and little-known art form: fore-edge painting. A recent donation of the Reuben M. and Regine Ginsberg Collection of Fore-edge Painted Books, made by Michael Ginsburg (Brandeis Class of 1970) in honor of his parents, greatly enhances Brandeis’s existing collection of these unique and spectacular volumes.

While bibliophiles may be familiar with the gilt edges often found on antique books, many may not know that this gold finishing sometimes hides a secret painting (or even two!). Fan the pages of a book with a fore-edge painting, and who knows what you may find…images of children playing in the snow, a lovers’ embrace, a family crest, a portrait, a landscape, a famous landmark, a battle scene, and much, much more.

The fore-edge is the edge of the text block opposite the spine (if you think of a book as having four edges, they are the spine, top edge, bottom edge, and fore-edge - this last being the edge you use to thumb through the pages) and fore-edge paintings are artistic decorations meant to enhance the volume’s beauty. These paintings are added by artists to individual books and might have little to no relationship to the subject of the book itself. Depending on the artist’s employer (the bindery or the owner), these paintings could be added before or long after binding. Rarely signed, fore-edge artists and dates are usually identified by style. (1) Brandeis’s collection consists mostly of 19th-century books with contemporary and later paintings.

Some fore-edge paintings are visible when the book is closed, but usually, the paintings are disguised by gilt edges. These are referred to as “disappearing fore-edge paintings,” and can only be seen when the pages are slightly bent. A slight misnomer, the “fore-edge paintings” of the disappearing variety are actually painted not on the book’s edge, but rather, just inside the edge of the pages. Disappearing versions began to appear in the 17th century.

Believed to have originated in the title markings applied to fore-edges in the 10th century, the art of fore-edge paintings began as a utilitarian procedure - mostly a method for identification, rather than beautification. Before book spines were regularly marked with books’ titles, fore-edges were used for this purpose and the books were shelved with the fore-edges facing outward so that the titles were visible. Later, when titles were shifted to the spines, the fore-edge began to be used to as a place to list book owners’ names (or their family mottoes, coats of arms, monograms, etc.), because books were luxuries and it was useful to identify ownership.

When a 16th-century Italian engraver and painter named Cesare Vecellio (cousin to the famous painter Titian) began painting the fore-edges of books, the purpose of fore-edge markings shifted from identification to beautification. Vecellio’s paintings, like the early practical markings of title and owner, were painted on the very edge of the pages, so as to be visible when the book was closed. Around a hundred years later, in England, Samuel Mearne, a bookbinder of the Restoration Period (and one of the “Queen’s Binders”), added a new skill to the existing art. He began to paint, not on the absolute edge of the text block, but just within the inner edges of the pages. This shift in technique resulted in artwork which was visible only when the pages were fanned and undetectable when the book was closed. Thus, the “disappearing fore-edge painting” was born.

Over the next few centuries, fore-edge paintings grew in popularity. “The famous bookbinding firm, which is always referred to with ‘the territorial suffix’ Edwards of Halifax, was responsible for this surge of interest. Artists were employed to paint landscape scenes with country estates on the fore-edges of books, which were then handsomely bound in painted vellum covers or in exotic leather bindings.”(2) While they continue to be a relatively rare art form, fore-edge paintings are still being created today, usually added to antiquarian books, making the painting significantly younger than the book itself.

Single fore-edge paintings, whether hidden under gilt or not, provide, as their name suggests, only one image. A double fore-edge painting delights the viewer with two: one image which appears when the pages are fanned in one direction, and a second image when the fanning is reversed. The triple fore-edge painting adds a third image which takes the place of the gilt edging and is visible when the book is closed. There are also “panoramic fore-edge paintings” which occur not only on the fore-edge but the top and bottom edges of the book’s pages as well.

Perhaps due to their hidden nature, there has been relatively little written and there is relatively little known about these stunning pieces of secret art. They are a rare commodity usually found in rare books and special collections libraries. Owners of books adorned with fore-edge paintings may not even be aware of the treasures they hold. Brandeis’s small but stunning collection provides a peek into this special art form and should prove of particular interest to scholars of art history, bookbinding, and antique literature, as well as all lovers of books and beauty.

The Reuben M. and Regine Ginsberg Collection of Fore-edge Painted Books is currently being cataloged, but the list is available upon request. The currently cataloged fore-edge painted books in Brandeis’s collection can be found here.

References and suggested reading:

An Artistic Edge: Selected Fore-Edge Paintings at MSU Special Collections.” In Adversaria: Special Collections Provenance at MSU · Tracing the Trajectory of Rare Books at Michigan State University. Michigan State University, February 21, 2014.

(1 & 2) Bromer, Anne C. “Fore Edge Painting - An Introduction” in On the Edge: The Hidden Art of Fore-Edge Book Painting. Boston Public Library.

Carswell, Beth. Fore-Edge Paintings: Beauty on the Edge. Abe Books.

Carter, Michael. “A (Disappearing) Fore-edge Painted Book at The Cloisters Library.” The Cloisters Museum and Gardens, August 6, 2014.

Frost, Martin. “What Is A Fore-Edge Painting?” in On the Edge: The Hidden Art of Fore-Edge Book Painting. Boston Public Library.

Roberts, Matt T. and Etherington, Don. “Fore-edge Painting.” Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. CoOL: Conservation Online, Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (FAIC), November 19, 2011.

Weber, Carl J. Fore-Edge Painting, A Historical Survey of a Curious Art in Book Decoration. New York: Harvey House, Inc, 1966.

Research by Hansol Lee, undergraduate student in Biochemistry and Archives & Special Collections assistant; research and description by Surella Evanor Seelig, Archives & Special Collections Outreach Librarian.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Stereoscopic Slides of the Holy Land, from the Dan Tassel photography collection

Brandeis University Archives and Special Collections holds one hundred stereoscopic images of the Holy Land, dating from the turn of the last century. They form a set which was intended to serve as a sort of tourism substitute, enabling an American audience to ‘see the sights’ without leaving home. These fascinating images, a set entitled “Palestine” produced by the American firm Underwood & Underwood, depict locations of historical and biblical significance.

The stereoscopic slides were donated to Brandeis in 2013 by Dan Tassel, a retired physician and photographer whose “then and now” photographs of the region have been featured at the Harvard Semitic Museum, and in Haifa and Jerusalem. The slides form one part of the Dan Tassel Photography Collection which also contains photographs and printed books from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a stereoscope for three-dimensional viewing of the slides. Subjects of the collection include the architecture and people of the Middle East (with a particular focus on Israel), Italy, and the United States; and a historical and modern photography portfolio of Jerusalem by Dan Tassel. The collection also features works of noted 20th-century photographers Jules Aarons, Yaacov Ben-Dov, Richard Benson, Tim Gidal, and Ezra Stoller.

Stereoscopic images allow the viewer, with the help of a specialized holder, to perceive two separate photographic images as a single, three-dimensional image. The technology relies upon the capacity of the human eye to fuse two images -- when presented at the right depth -- into a single one. They first gained popularity in the mid-nineteenth century; to the European and American publics, the idea of viewing photographs -- themselves a novel technology at this time -- in three dimensions was of tremendous interest. This popularity was fuelled by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr’s 1861 invention of a more convenient stereoscopic viewer, which became the basis for future models including the one held by Brandeis and pictured here.

The Underwood & Underwood slides feature the paired images on one side, with an English caption, while the other side bears the same English caption, and translations into French, German, Spanish, Norwegian, and Russian, thus reflecting the diversity of the (presumably Christian) American audience, as these linguistic groups would have included Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Protestants among them. The choice of certain locations to photograph -- Bethlehem and Nazareth, for instance -- and the phrasing of some captions -- the Western, or Wailing, Wall is referred to as “the Jews’ place of wailing” -- underscores the extent to which these were meant for American Christians.

The significance of these images is multiple. Most obviously, they are a direct window into the physical past, as they present locations in present-day Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and Syria as they appeared 115 years ago. In another optic, the slides also demonstrate how many Americans perceived the region (or at least, how Underwood & Underwood felt that the American public might best understand the Holy Land.) And in a third light, they serve as examples of the evolution of photography, both technically, and as a popular form. These deeply interesting stereographs are available for viewing at the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections.

More details can be found in the Dan Tassel Photography Collection finding aid.

For further information:
Filcman, Debra. "Photographer Donates Israel Then-and-Now Collection." Brandeis Now. May 6, 2013.

Description by Sean Beebe, doctoral student in History and Archives & Special Collections assistant.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Trustman Collection of Honoré Daumier Lithographs

Though one can view Honoré Daumier’s 19th century lithographs from a purely artistic or purely political standpoint, they were often a blend of both. An artist whose work was characterized by whimsical and often surrealist imagery, Daumier (1808-1879) frequently made political statements with his art, but always sought to entertain. Brandeis is fortunate to count among its holdings the Benjamin A. and Julia M. Trustman Collection of Honoré Daumier Lithographs (finding aid here). While Daumier’s works (which, in addition to lithographs, include numerous paintings, drawings, sculptures and wood engravings) are found at institutions and museums across the globe, Brandeis’s Trustman Collection is one of the major Daumier collections in the United States. Comprising as it does nearly all (3,878) of the 4,000 known Daumier lithographs, and several proofs, illustrated books, and woodcuts, this collection is a unique resource for the study of both Honoré Daumier's art and nineteenth-century French history.(1)

Born in Marseilles in 1808, Daumier moved to Paris with his family in 1814, eventually becoming a part of and drawing inspiration from the cosmopolitan scene there. Daumier first used his talents in lithography on behalf of music publishers and advertisers at a young age (13 years old), before quickly expanding into political cartoons and other artistic endeavors. Early on in his career, Daumier received work and commissions from two magazines run by Charles Philipon known as La Caricature and then La Charivari.(2)

While Daumier's star has risen in the art world since his death, he was well known during his lifetime for his sometimes grotesque and other-worldly caricatures of French politicians and other fellow countrymen. In fact, he was once thrown in jail for a controversial cartoon entitled “Gargantua.”(3) One example of his tongue-in-cheek portraiture is a lithograph depicting Agricol Perdiguier (1805-1875)  -- a French socialist politician and a Deputy after the 1848 revolution -- who was forced into exile following the rise of Napoleon the Third in 1851. The caricature lampoons the salary of 25 francs the Deputy received, which was outrageous for the day.

Perhaps one of Daumier’s most moving and most scathing pieces is an 1871 work captioned (translated from the French) “Other Candidates,” wherein political candidates come in to scavenge on the carcass of a woman, labelled “France.” Such seriousness is present in many of Daumier’s drawings, paintings, and lithographs and exemplifies his more overtly political work.

Daumier did not, however, maintain a serious façade at all times, and there are examples of his lithographs being employed for less political ends. In amongst artwork lampooning French economy and politics, there are lithographs of polkas and poodles. One such piece, “Une Terrible Rencontre,” is a cartoon of an urban family encountering a frog on a walk in the country, the husband shielding his wife and child as though confronted by a monster. While not explicitly political, the image does gently rib the city dwellers of Paris for their increasing alienation from nature as the Industrial Revolution’s engines begin to turn. The simple image conveys a strong message about the strained relation between nature and the city dweller.

Alongside Daumier’s cartoons and caricatures stand some of the advertisements he created, including one for Le Charivari (a French illustrated magazine to which Daumier contributed), attempting to draw in new subscribers. The ad is not without Daumier’s token humor, as the title’s letters are repeated in caption, in all capitals, as though one is being shouted at through the image (“VOILLLLLLLLLA! GRRRRRRAND GALOP…”).

One of Daumier’s most famous prints is his “Rue Transnonain, 15 de Avril 1834,” depicting the aftermath of a bloody French National Guard attack on the French citizenry. The controversial lithograph stone was destroyed by the French government which also got rid of as many copies of the prints as possible. The only duplicates of this print were hidden from the state by Parisians and Brandeis has a copy of this rare piece.(4)

The value and appreciation of Daumier’s pieces rose after his death, with the École des Beaux-Arts holding an exhibition of his works in 1901. Today, Daumier has works in many prestigious museums, including the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Brandeis is proud to join these great museums in housing a fine collection of lithographs made by this acclaimed French artist.

High-quality digital images of the entire Trustman Collection are available through the Brandeis Institutional Repository.

1. While the vast majority of these prints are from the large editions done on newsprint, there are also many fine examples printed on wove white paper (sur blanc).
2. Wikipedia. “Honoré Daumier.” Last modified September 12, 2015.
3. Artble. “Honoré Daumier.”
4. Arts and Culture 104. “Rue Transnonain, Daumier.” Friday, December 10, 2010.

Description by Max Close, undergraduate student in History and Archives & Special Collections assistant.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Brandeis Special Collections on the Internet Archive - Part I in an occasional series

We at Brandeis University Archives & Special Collections are dedicated to the preservation of the materials within our collecting remit. We are equally dedicated to making these materials freely and widely accessible. One of the ways we have been expanding this accessibility is by making many of our materials available online. As a member of the Boston Library Consortium, Brandeis University participates in the Open Content Alliance (OCA) project, which digitizes public-domain works from around the world. These digitized items are then made available on the Internet Archive (IA) ("a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, and more") where they are beautifully presented, free, and openly accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This occasional series will highlight some of the 1,829 (and growing) valuable, unique, and highly requested research materials owned by Brandeis and scanned through the OCA project.

The Scourge : or, Monthly Expositor of Imposture and Folly. London: Printed by W.N. Jones for M. Jones, 1811.

William N. Jones’s iconoclastic journal The Scourge: Monthly Expositor of Literary, Dramatic, Medical, Political, Mercantile and Religious Imposture and Folly (1811-1816) presents a cornucopia of biting satire aimed at every area of British society. What it is perhaps best known for is its presentation of George Cruikshank’s early work. Cruikshank’s hand-colored engravings were folded into the front of each issue (with extras being sold as separate prints). A famed British caricaturist and book illustrator whose many notable works include the illustrations for Charles Dickens’s Sketches by Boz, The Mudfog Papers, and Oliver Twist, Cruikshank began his long and prolific career as a teenager drawing for The Scourge. The caricatures he created therein were highly radical, political, and informed, and as such move beyond mere decoration to intellectual and historical significance.

Click here to view The Scourge on the Internet Archive.

The Complete Cynic: Being Bunches of Wisdom Culled from the Calendars of Olive Herford, Ethel Watts Mumford, Addison Mizner. San Francisco, Calif. : P. Elder & Co., 1910.

The Dial: A Semi-Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion and Information, Chicago, December 16, 1910 calls it “a mirth-provoking collection of distorted proverbs with appropriate illustrations and decorations.”

When an author and a famous resort architect meet in Waikiki, there is no telling what may happen. From The Many Mizners (Addison Mizner, Sears Publishing, 1932): “One day I twisted an old adage to fit the time, and Ethel came back with a quotation from Oliver Herford. We began twisting all the old saws and bringing them up-to-date. We got 365 together and sent them to Elder & Shepard in San Francisco to be printed for our Christmas presents. Elder wrote back and asked us if he could publish it for sale, with a few cuts.” The result was the clever and cheeky The Cynic’s Calendar of Revised Wisdom for 1903, thrown together on a whim by Ethel Watts Mumford (the author) and Addison Mizner (the architect) with some added (and unintentional) help from writer, artist, and illustrator Oliver Herford. It became a smash hit and was reincarnated several times over. The Complete Cynic is a fully developed book based on the wit of the original calendar.

Click here to view The Complete Cynic on the Internet Archive.