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Friday, July 22, 2011

A Crazy Cat Creates "Krazy Kat"

The central characters:  Ignatz Mouse, Offissa Bull Pupp, and Krazy Kat.

Before Garfield, before Heathcliff, before Fritz, even before Felix, there was Krazy Kat.  The brainchild of cartoonist George Herriman, the strip was published between 1913 and 1944.  It first appeared in the New York Evening Journal.  Its owner, William Randolph Hearst, was such a big fan that it had a long run, ending two months after Herriman died.  Significantly, Hearst did not hire another artist to carry on the strip, although that was a common practice at the time.  His fans included President Woodrow Wilson, and e.e. cummings.

Herriman in his ubiquitous hat.

The strip focuses on a love triangle between Krazy Kat (a simple, ingenuous, genderless cat), Ignatz Mouse (an irritable and often furious mouse who throws bricks at Krazy), and Offissa Pupp (in love with Krazy and at odds with Ignatz, continually arresting him for throwing the bricks).  Krazy loves Ignatz who doesn't love her/him back.  Offissa loves Krazy, but is content to protect her/him.  Krazy thinks it's a sign of love when Ignatz throws bricks ("Li'l dollink, allus f'etful").

The strip had an auspicious start as margin doodles in a strip Herriman was doing called The Dingbat Family (later called The Family Upstairs).  (Fifty years later, Sergio Aragonés started doing his famous marginals for Mad Magazine.)  The title was how Ignatz often described the cat.  The strip is set in a dreamlike, somewhat surrealistic version of Herriman's beloved Coconino County.

Image courtesy www.comicstriplibrary.org.

One of the strip's idiosyncrasies is the ever-changing background, especially between panels, and particularly when the characters haven't changed positions. Coconino County morphs from a desert to a city and back again, without any narrative comment.  There is a definite southwestern style - clay roofs, Navajo art, and Mexican-American cultural elements.  Herriman experimented with irregular page layouts, using panels of varying sizes and shapes.  He liked to tweak the formulaic expectations.

Image courtesy of www.comicstriplibrary.org.

There have been several animated shorts of Krazy Kat.  At the strip's peak popularity there were also dolls and other paraphenalia.  There was even a jazz ballet in 1922 based on the strip.  Many cartoonists claim it as an influence on their own work, from Chuck Jones' Wile E. Coyote (similarly set in the Southwest) to Bill Watterston (Calvin and Hobbes), who employed the varied panel layouts.  It was not that popular with the general public, but had a wide following among "intellectuals".  Part of the appeal (or lack of) is undoubtably the language.

Image courtesy U.S.P.S.

The language is a mix of Yat, Creole, French, Spanish, Hoboken English, Yiddish, and other dialects.  It is often alliterative, and spelled phonetically.  "What cares the world for the pultaceous wisdom of a word weevil, or the dolsome dynamics of an entomological vermicule?"  "Agathla [a peak south of the Monument Valley], centuries aslumber, shivers in its sleep with splenetic splendor, and spread abroad a seismic spasm with the supreme suavity of a vagabond volcano."  The words are like free form poetry, quirky and masterful.

Here's some of the secondary characters:  Kolin Kelly, a canine brickmaker; Mrs. Kwakk Wakk,
a duck in a pillbox hat; Walter Cephus Austrige, an ostrich; & Don Kiyote, an aristocratic coyote.

Herriman was born in New Orleans in 1888, so the language is reflective of his upbringing.  There was controversy about his ethnicity - he was olive-skinned and people thought he was Greek, which he apparently didn't disavow.  He always wore a hat, citing a wen on his head, but the couple of people who did see him without it said his hair was very short and wavy.  He referred to it as "kinky".  One researcher finally looked up his birth certificate, and it said "colored".  Further research revealed that the census records of his birth year identify his parents as "mulatto". His family was Creole, which at that time meant they were "free persons of color".

Image courtesy www.timesunion.com.

His family headed to California, where it appears that they passed for white.  It was not a great time to live in Louisiana - Plessy vs. Ferguson was decided in 1896, and that landmark Supreme Court case upheld a Louisiana law of segregation.  He probably wouldn't have had the same opportunities at that time if he had claimed his ethnicity.

Click here to see a larger image.

Scholars and critics see Herriman's complex experiences and contemplations about his own identity in his work.  One of his first strips was called Musical Mose, about a black musician who tried to pass for various ethnicities, but always ends up exposed and beaten.  In one strip he tries to "impussinate" a Scot by wearing a kilt. However, this was a theme that other cartoonists of that time also explored: Richard Felton Outcault, of Yellow Kid fame, did a strip called Pore Lil' Mose. This was the first strip featuring a central character who was a seven-year-old likeable black kid.  This strip was introduced in 1900, but only ran a couple of years until Outcault introduced Buster Brown in 1902.

Pore Lil' Mose.  Image courtesy www.toonpedia.com

In one interesting scenario, Krazy Kat goes to the beauty salon of "Madame Kamouflage" and has her/his fur died white.  Ignatz falls in love upon seeing her/him, "would's dip thy beak in a beaker of sassprilla with me, snow maiden". But when Ignatz finds out it's Krazy Kat, he reaches for a brick.

Any examination of Herriman's work in regard to any identity issues are the examiner's perceptions at best, and in the end have questionable importance in his work as an artist.  Everyone brings something of themselves to whatever creative enterprises they endeavor - it's unavoidable.  What remains is that Herriman apparently risked discovery to ply his trade.  And, I, for one, am grateful.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Higher, Faster, and Even More Hair-raising

The Katlnaya gorka pavilion in St. Petersburg, Russia.  This building was
erected in 1762 to house a roller coaster, and remodelled in 2007.  It is a part
of Oranienbaum, a Russian royal residence and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Russian mountains were winter sled rides on hills built of lumber with several inches of ice on the surface.  These "slides" were usually 70 - 80 feet tall with a 50% drop.  Riders would climb the stairs on the back and slide down.  Parallel slides meant more riders could slide simultaneously, or riders would move on to the next one after sliding down the first.  They originated in the 17th century, and by the 18th century they were especially popular in St. Petersburg where they spread across Europe.  Eventually carts with wheels on tracks were used. Entrepreneurs brought them to Paris in 1804, calling them Les Montagnes Russes.

An early form of roller Les Montagnes Russes,
Aerial Promenades, 
in the Beaujon Gardens, Paris, circa 1817.

Most of the countries that adopted the concept called them Russian mountains:  in Portuguese, montanha-russa; in Spanish,  montaña rusa.  Ironically in Russia they are now called amerikanskie gorki.  The term roller coaster is thought to come from the fact that the early ones were fitted with rollers which the cars would coast over.  In Japan they are called jet coasters.

From a book of costumes showing visitors to the Aerial Prominades, 1817.

Roller coasters are more-or-less specially designed railroads.  In fact, two or more cars hooked together are known as a train.  Some, however, run with only one car, and the first ones did not run on a complete circuit.  The first one in the U.S. was the Mauch Chunk Gravity Railroad in Pennsylvania, which started operations in 1827.  It ran on an 8.7 mile downhill track used to transport coal.  The Gravity Road, as it was known, catered to thrill-seekers, costing 50¢ by the 1850s.  Other railway companies used the idea on similar tracks when ridership was low.

The Mauch Chunk Gravity Railroad.  Mauch Chunk was renamed Jim Thorpe.

In 1884, La Marcus Adna Thompson built a gravity switchback railway at Coney Island in Brooklyn.  Passengers climbed to the top of a platform and rode the 600 feet down to a return track, hence the "switchback".  The car had benches and went just over 6 mph.  (Today's fastest roller coaster is the Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates at 150 mph.)  Others developers built oval circuits for continuous rides and more comfortable cars. Thompson, in 1886, patented a system that included dark tunnels and painted scenery.  Some of these roller coasters ran until 1954.

The Switchbank Railway in 1884.

The Great Depression ended the golden age of roller coasters as theme parks declined.  Then, in 1972, a new age began which is still thriving.  This is when The Racer was built at Kings Island in Mason, Ohio, which was an instant success.  But in between, in 1959, Disneyland introduced the Matterhorn Bobsleds, which was the first ride to use a tubular steel track.  Conventional rails were set on wooden railroad ties but tubular steel can be bent in any direction, leading to the loops and corkscrews that are the hallmark of modern roller coasters.

Disney's Matterhorn being constructed.

The early roller coasters were replaced by larger steel ones.  The current trend is building "hybrid" roller coasters that have the feel of the older "woodies" but have the safety aspects of steel.  Although they were once chain-lifted, modern roller coasters employ hydraulic, pneumatic, or electromagnetic power, enabling faster speeds.  These require much heavier maintenance.

Kingda Ka tower at Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey
is the world's tallest roller coaster (456 feet) with the
highest drop  (418 feet).  It is 3, 118 feet long.

Although designers use many safety measures, accidents still do occur.  Injuries by mechanical failure are rare; more often they are due to riders or ride operators not following directions properly.  Undetected heart ailments account for many of the deaths.  The Brain Injury Association of America reported in 2003 that although there is a risk of brain injury to some people, the overwhelming majority of riders are not at risk.

The Formula Rossa roller coaster at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in the
United Arab Emirates is the fastest in the world - for now.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimated in 2001 that fatalities from roller coasters averaged two a year.  A study commissioned by Six Flags concluded that a person has a one in one-and-a-half-billion chance of a fatality, and the injury rates involving children's wagons, golf, and folding lawn chairs were higher.

The Tatsu, one of 18 roller coasters at Six Flags in Valencia,
California.  This site has the most roller coasters in the world.

Throughout the history of roller coasters its popularity has risen and fallen - well, just like a roller coaster.  The numbers sharply declined during the Great Depression.  But today the international race is on to built higher, faster, scarier rides than ever.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia.
Here is a list of roller coasters rankings from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Greek Diaspora

"The Smyrna Catastrophe" by Vasilis Bottas.

The early Greeks were restless colonizers since the Bronze Age (3100 - 1200 BCE), when they settled the Aegean coast of Asia Minor.  When Asia Minor was conquered by Alexander the Great, even more Greeks settled in the area.  Under Hellenization, Greek became the lingua franca of the area, and was one of the first places that Christianity spread.  By the 4th century CE, Asia Minor was pretty much both Greek-speaking and Christian.

All the colored land areas are part of the Hellenistic civilization
(Greek civilization beyond classical Greeks) that was
established by colonization and by Alexander the Great.

In the 11th century, the Seljuk Turks took over Asia Minor and settled there. Gradually the population changed, and became predominantly Turkish-speaking and Muslim.  There was a wealthy class of Greek merchants who were influential in the Ottoman Empire administration.  These Greek-Turks considered themselves Hellenic.  They also used their wealth to endow libraries and schools, and one of the most important centers of learning was in Smyrna, a major center of Greek commerce.

The distribution of Greeks in the Balkans and western Asia Minor from a 1919 map.
This map was submitted to the Paris Peace Conference that year.

The Ottoman Empire existed from 1299 to 1923, when the Treaty of Lausanne officially ended it.  Its height was in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Toward its end, by the mid-19th century, it was known as the "sick man of Europe".  At this time the rise of nationalism was sweeping through Europe, and it affected many of the territories in the Ottoman Empire, which was forced to deal with it both within and outside its borders.  Before I go on, let me make it clear that the Ottomans and the ensuing Turkish government were not one and the same.  The Ottomans tended to look down upon the Turks, and were banished once Turkey became a Republic.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Asia Minor was part of the irredentist notion known as the Megali Idea (big idea).  This advocated the establishment of a Greek nation encompassing all ethnic Greeks.  It was to include former Byzantine lands from the Ionian sea to Asia Minor and the Black Sea (west to east, respectively), and Trace, Macedonia, and Epirus to Crete and Cyprus (north to south). Constantinope would be the capital, and it would be called the "Greece of Two Continents and Five Seas" (Europe and Asia; the Ionian, Aegean, Marmara, Black, and Libyan Seas).

Greece after the Treaty of Sèvres.  In the left corner is Eleutherios
Venizelos, two-time Prime Minister of Greece and an eminent
revolutionary.  He represented Greece in negotiations that led to the
Treaty of Lausanne, and was a proponent of the Megali Idea.  

After WWI, Greece was given Smyrna and surrounding areas, as promised by the western Allies, Great Britain in particular, in exchange for Greece's support of the Allies.   In 1919, the Greek army occupied Smyrna.  Many historians, including Arnold J. Toynbee, argue that it was this occupation of Smyrna that created the Turkish Nationalist Movement.   Smyrna, at that time, had more Greeks than Athens living there.

Greek troops in Smyrna welcomed by the Greek population on May 15, 1919.

During the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), a series of military events that happened during the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire, Greece gave back the territory of Smyrna that it had gained during the war.  A population exchange was conducted with the new nation of Turkey under the provision of the Treaty of Lausanne.  More than one million Greeks were displaced, most settling in Attica, Macedonia and Thrace.  They were exchanged for 500,000 Muslims from Greek territories.

Smyrna harbor prior to 1922.  It was the largest Greek city in the world.

A major factor contributing to the defeat of the Greeks was the withdrawal of Allied support, for complex reasons.  The most plausible reason was no one wanted to engage in battle after the bloodshed of WWI. This lack of support not only included military aide, but all credit was stopped.  The Allies would also not allow the Greek Navy to carry out a blockade, which would have restricted Turkey from receiving food and materials.  The Russians, who had felt humiliated after WWI, supported the Turks, providing them with weapons and monetary aid.  Italy and France joined with the Turks, also sending them military aid, because they saw Greece as a client of Great Britain.

There are substantial reports that when the Greeks first occupied Smyrna they caused massive destruction and massacred whole villages of Turks.  There are equally substantial reports, and they are more numerous, of the Turks committing horrible atrocities against the Greeks in the Black Sea area and of Armenians in the East and South.  Newspapers of many nations state that the Turkish aim was to exterminate non-Turkish populations.  Turkish authorities also prevented missionaries and humanitarian aid groups from assisting Greek civilians.

Panicked refugees prefer drowning to slaughter.
Image courtesy of www.imia.cc.duth.gr.

In September of 1922 a fire began in Smyrna, four days after Turkish occupation. Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal, had issued a proclamation, written in Greek and distributed throughout, that any Turkish soldier who harmed non-combatants would be put to death.  Nonetheless, the city was set on fire and the properties of the Greeks were pillaged.  Although the Greeks were blamed for setting the fire, most eye-witness accounts identified the Turkish army as setting the fire.  The fact that only the Greek and Armenian parts of the city were burned adds credence to this claim.

The fire as seen from an Italian ship, September 14, 1922.

50,00 to 400,000 (none of the data of any of this history can be confirmed) Greek and Armenian refugees lined the waterfront escaping the fire.  They remained there for almost two weeks until Greek Ships under the supervision of Allied destroyers entered the harbor to evacuate them.

Some of the thousands who lined up on the waterfront.
Image courtesy of the Benaki Museum,

The fire, which broke on the afternoon of September 13, and spread quickly due to the wind and the fact no efforts were made to put it out, was finally extinguished on the 22nd.  It was not until the 24th that the first Greek ships came to get the refugees.  Evacuation was difficult because of the number and state of distress of the refugees.  On the quay, some Turkish soldiers robbed and beat the refugees, arresting anyone who resisted.  Many of the terrified people took their own lives. 150,000 - 200,000 Greeks were evacuated, while approximately 30,000 fit Greek and Armenian men were deported to the interior.  Many of them died en route or were executed.

Caravans of refugees were deported into the interior of Turkey.
Image courtesy of this site.

There were numerous ships from the various Allied nations in the harbor of Smyrna at the time, but they did not help the refugees, citing "neutrality".  Military bands played loudly in an attempt to drown out the screams.  A U.S. seaman recalled that the screaming, which started on the docks as the sun fell, never ceased through the nights.  A lone Japanese freighter dumped all of its cargo and filled the ship to the brink with refugees and took them to Piraeus.  Many refugees were rescued via an impromptu flotilla arranged by Asa Jennings.

Jennings was an employee of the YMCA in Smyrna who took it upon himself to telegraph the government in Athens to rescue the refugees.  When he threatened to make public the government's refusal, they placed all the Greek ships in his command.  He later recalled, "All I knew about ships was to be sick in them."  By the end of September he had rescued all of the refugees, not quitting until there was no one left.

Refugees.  Image courtesy of this site.

George Horton, U.S. Consul and a witness to the fire, wrote later, "One of the keenest impressions which I brought away with me from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race." He also was of the opinion that "..a united order from the [Allied] commanders or from any two of them - one harmless shell thrown across the Turkish quarter - would have brought the Turks to their senses."

In the aftermath, Greek officers at Piraeus.  Image courtesy of http://smyrniaalbum.s5.com.

The refugees who finally made it to Greece were scarcely welcomed with open arms.  Greece was a poor country and the influx was about one-third of its population.  The housing and lands from the Muslims who were traded were hardly enough to accommodate the refugees.  Also, their culture was more akin to Constantinople, rather than the Greek cities they came to.

Greeks at a refugee camp.  Image courtesy of www.greeklibrary.agrino.org.

So who was to blame?  In part, the Allies, particularly Great Britain, need to assume some responsibility.  Even Winston Churchill commented, "At last peace with Turkey:  and to ratify it, War with Turkey!  However, so far as the Great Allies were concerned the war was to be fought by proxy.  Wars when fought thus by great nations are often very dangerous for the proxy."  The Greeks were worried that Italy, who had been promised Smyrna in 1917, might gain control of the area, so they pushed their dominance.  However, their occupation of Smyrna was urged by the British government, and Allied warships were positioned in the harbor.  This undoubtably added resentment on the part of the Turkish nationalists.

Memorabilia of the horrors.  Image courtesy of www.greeklibrary.agrino.org.

We will never know all the facts, nor will we know the true ones.  Any kind of accounting is suspect as numbers kept varying from party to party and are not based on the same reasoning.  The Turks, for instance, kept populations numbers according to religion and not ethnicity.

One of the Greeks who survived Smyrna was Aristotle Onassis.  He was born there, and his family had substantial property losses from either bribes or confiscation.  While some of his family fled, he remained behind to successfully save his father from a Turkish concentration camp.  He lost three uncles, and aunt, and a niece when the Turks set fire to a church where 500 Greeks had turned to for shelter.

Aristotle Onassis.

While he obviously was able to recoup any financial losses, his story was an anomaly.  My grandparents were refugees, and my grandmother was soon abandoned in Athens by her new husband, left with a baby daughter - my mother. My mother escaped her poor circumstances by marrying my father and moving to the U.S.  No one was more shocked than her, returning to Athens in 1965 with me in tow and seeing the indigent circumstances my grandmother lived in.  Yia Yia was too proud to ever ask for anything, and always wrote that things were fine. The guilt of leaving her had been hard on my mother, and it was made worse by her findings.  The horror and sorrow of Smyrna was passed down the generations.

The end of Smyrna, a great Ionian city.
Image courtesy of http://smyrnialbum.s5.com.

Thus ended 3,000 years of Greek occupation of the Aegean Coast of Asia Minor.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Art on the Edge

A fore-edge painting.  Image courtesy of the University of Florida.
Viscount Alfred Milner, England in Egypt.  London:  Arnold, 1894.
Artists through the ages have used all kinds of media and surfaces to express themselves.  One of the most unusual is fore-edge painting.  This is a painting done on the edges of the pages of a book that is invisible unless the pages are fanned to expose it.

Mark Akenside, The Poems of Mark Akenside, M.D.  Chiswick:  from the
Press of C. Whittingham, College House, 1822.  Volume I above and Volume II below.
These are attributed to the "Thistle" painter, active in the 1950s in NYC, who
frequently used thistles in his backgrounds.  Images courtesy of the Lilly Library

Most of the edges of these books are gilded or marbled after the painting is done and has dried, further obscuring it from plain view when the book is closed.  Not content to just do one painting, some artists create double fore-edge paintings - one painting can be seen fanning the pages one way, the other can be seen by fanning the pages in the other direction.  An even more ambitious project is the triple fore-edge painting, which has a third scene painted on the very edges instead of gilt or marbling.  This third painting, therefore, is visible when the book is closed. Additionally, some artists also did paintings on the top and bottom edges of books, known as panoramic fore-edge paintings, but these are not as common.

Jean Louis de Lolme, The Constitution of England; or, An Account of the English
Government; in which it is Compared Both with the Republican Form of Government;
and the Other Monarchies in Europe
.  London:  Printed for G. Wilkie; J. Cuthell;
J. Stockdale; Longman, Hurst, Reese, Orme, and Brown; Cadell and Davis; Lackington,
Allen, and Co; R. Pheney; R. Scholey; J. Booker; Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy; R. Saunders;
J. Black; Walker and Edwards; and B. Reynolds, 1816.  This is an example of a double
fore-edge painting.  They are very rare, accounting for only a few percent of all fore-edge
paintings.  Both of these are river scenes with a bridge and boats.  Images courtesy of the
Lilly Library.

The earliest fore-edge paintings may have been done as far back as the 10th century and were of symbolic designs - coats of arms, shields, etc.  The earliest English ones were of heraldic designs, often just in gold, and are thought to be from the 14th century.  Circa 1750 the subject matter of the paintings became more complex.  Landscapes, portraits, religious scenes, and even x-rated scenes were done, some relating to the book but often not.  Many fore-edge paintings were applied to old books, even centuries older.

The Seasons by James Thompson:  to which is prefixed, A Life of the Author.  Together
with Illustrative Remarks on the Seasons
.  By the Rev. J. Evans, A.M., Master of a
Seminary for a limited number of Pupils, Pullin's Row, Islington.  London:  Printed by
J. Cundee, Ivy-Lane, for T. Hurst, Paternoster-Row, 1802.  Image courtesy of the Lilly Library.
A fox hunt scene at a water jump.

Since most of the painters did not sign their work, it is anyone's guess who they are.  Some binderies employed artists to do fore-edge paintings.  Some artists have been assigned names, for instance the "Dover artist", so-called because s/he painted scenes of Dover.  Historians and scholars can sometimes recognize an artist by their style.

Robert Southey, The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, Late of St. John's
College, Cambridge, with an Account of his Life
.  London:  Printed for Longman, Hurst,
Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster-Row, 1822.   This painting features Nottingham
Castle.  Image courtesy of the Lilly Library.

There are basically two theories of the origins of fore-edge paintings.  The first one refers to the Middle Ages, when books were composed of vellum or parchment and therefore commonly shelved on their sides with the edges out.  This was the most practical area to write titles.  Later when paper became the preferred material for books, they could be bound with spines and shelved vertically.  The spines became the obvious place for titles, leaving the fore-edge blank - and literally a blank canvas.

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer.  To Which are Added an
Essay on his Language and Versification, and an Introductory Discourse together
with Notes and a Glossary
.  By the Late Thomas Tyrwhitt, Esq. F.R.S.  Oxford:
the Clarendon Press, 1798.  Copied from a painting by Thomas Stothard, volume I
above shows the left side of the painting, and volume II below the right side.
Image courtesy of the Lilly Library, this set is from the library of J.K. Lilly.

The other theory is simpler.  Since bookbinders liked to decorate their creations, blank edges begged for some decoration of their own.  This led to the first decorations, mostly heraldic or simple designs like flowers or butterflies, that were not only painted but stamped on the edges.

Simple motifs decorate the fore-edge of this book.
Jeremy Taylor, Rule and Exerfises of Holy Living.  London:  M. Flefher, 1686.
Image courtesy of the Bentley Rare Book Gallery, Kennesaw State University.

Edwards of Halifax, the well-known British binders/publishers/booksellers, revived the practice and made it popular.  William Edwards was painting fore-edges in the late 1700s using monochrome at first (gray or brown) and then the full range of colors.  The typical books done included Bibles and prayer books, the classics, and poetry.  William picked up on the new term "picturesque", coined by author William Gilpin, meaning that something was capable of being skillfully depicted in painting, and began creating fore-edge paintings that illustrated something from the books they were painted on.  William's son Thomas Edwards carried on with the family tradition of fore-edge painting.

An example of a monochromatic painting.
C.C. Sturm, Sturm's Reflections.  London:  G. & W.B. Whitaker, 1823.
Image courtesy the George and Frances Gill Collection.

In the late 19th century, there was a period of time when a painting had no relation to the content of its book.  British booksellers were trying to appeal to buyers, especially those from the U.S.  Tourists apparently liked images of their country and history, so they bought books in England where they could find those types of scenes.  Most of these books were unimportant volumes, and appealing to U.S. patrons was a good way to get rid of their older stock.  Although the prices went up on these books, the quality of the paintings went down.

These golfers are an example of a painting unrelated to the book's subject.
Sir Walter Scott, The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott.
Edinburgh:  Adam and Charles Black, 1869.
Image courtesy of the George and Frances Gill Collection.

Watercolor paints were used with as dry a brush as possible to keep the paint from running.  These paints were absorbed by the paper and didn't cause the pages to stick together later as oils or other paints might.  They also don't crack with repeated handling.

Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and Other Rites
and Ceremonies of the Church, According to the Use of the United Church of
England and Ireland:  Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David, Pointed as
They are to be Sung or Said in Churches; and the Form and Manner of Making,
Ordaining, and Consecrating of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons
.  Oxford:  Printed
at the Clarendon Press, by J. Cooke and S. Collingwood, Printers to the University;
And sold by E. Gardner, at the Oxford Bible Warehouse, Paternoster Row, London, 1820.
This was painted from Titian's painting below.
Titians "The Aldobrandini Madonna", circa 1532.  Virgin and child with St. John
and St. Catherine.  The title is often incorrectly used with Rafael's "Garvagh Madonna".
Image courtesy of the National Gallery, London.

The art continues today with a few artists.  Martin Frost is perhaps the most well-known.  Another is Clare Brooksbank.  Books with fore-edge paintings are highly collectable luxury items and fetch enormous prices.  If you are looking for an artistic endeavor and can work in miniature, this might be the medium for you.

Unless otherwise stated and linked, images courtesy of
The Lilly Library, Indiana University at Bloomington