King James Bible and Prayer Book: Linking Details with their Artist

Title:  King James Bible and Prayer Book
Date:  1842
Location: Oxford, England
Publisher: Oxford:  Printed at the University Press
Size: 5½ x 3½ x 1½ inches bible; 5½ x 3½ x 1 inches prayer book

Fore-edge painting on prayer book

In several posts on the blog throughout this exhibition, we have discovered various aspects of fore-edge painting. Both of my books have the detail added. In an earlier blog post, I discussed that the scene depicted in both paintings appears to be Hereford Cathedral and the surrounding countryside, where the Warner family grew up. After further research on fore-edge paintings, I discovered that in the case of many books printed in the 19th century, these decorations were added later by a separate artist, rather than already with the texts at the point of initial sale. More often than not, the paintings were completed in the 20th century. After finding this out, I was curious as to when and where the fore-edge paintings were added to this pair of books.

Fore-edge painting on bible

These books were published in 1842 in Oxford, and given to Henry Lee James Warner in 1846 by his two sisters, Anne and Mary. The family was originally based in Hereford, and after a bit of research on English cathedrals, I was able to recognize Hereford Cathedral as the church shown in both fore-edge paintings. However, after learning that those details were more than likely added at a later date, I suspect that the paintings are merely a nod to the texts’ genealogical history, rather than original facets of the gift. The artist (or artists) who completed these fore-edge paintings likely looked into who the books had belonged to, and upon realizing they were first a wedding gift between siblings, wanted to reference those origins in his added work. Therefore, the depictions of Hereford Cathedral and its surrounding landscape were born. Both paintings are completed in a similar style.  

As a result of the resemblances between the two works, it is possible to try and tie them to a particular artist working at the time. Several researchers have complied collections of fore-edge paintings with known creators. One of these is S.E. Stevens, an English painter who worked throughout the middle of the 20th-century. After looking at examples of Stevens’ works, I believe that he completed the paintings on the Warner family Bible and Prayer Book. The artist frequently depicted pastoral scenes of monumental buildings either near bodies of water or large stretches of land, which match up with the fore-edge paintings at hand. The colors in these paintings also are incredibly comparable to those often used by Stevens; the artist uses golds, blues, and greens in nearly all of his works. Stevens shows two angles of Hereford Cathedral, showcasing the town that the Warner family loved so much.