Fore-edge painting is the art of painting a scene onto the edges of the pages of a book. The pages are slightly fanned and cramped to give a firm surface to the fore-edge onto which the scene is painted using very dry watercolours. Once complete the pages are restored to their normal position and the edge gilded. The result is that the painting is invisible unless the pages are fanned again.
The scene above is painted on the fore-edge of 'Portsmouth Parish Church' by Lilley and Everitt (now sold). When the book is closed only the gilt edges of the pages are visible. However, fanning the pages reveals a scene that shows Portsmouth sea front with the Parish Church, now Portsmouth Cathedral on the right.
In the most intricate examples, the fore-edge may be fanned both ways, and a different scene painted on each. The sides of the book can also be similarly painted. Martin Frost is the last commercial fore-edge painter in the country although the example shown here is not believed to be attributable to his remarkable skills.