Repton's Red Books Come to Life

19.01.2017 | category: General

Humphry Repton (1772-1818) was a leading landscape designer who refined the concept of the landscape garden and is regarded as the greatest English landscape designer to follow ‘Capability’ Brown. Repton produced finely illustrated books featuring watercolours and aquatints on hinged flaps to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ views. These manuscript volumes, bound in red morocco became known as ‘Red Books’, and were produced to sell his landscape ideas to prospective clients. Repton produced over 400 Red Books for various clients. Sketches and Hints on Landscape Gardening, Repton’s first published book, uses a selection of examples from his Red Books to summarise his approach to landscape gardening. In the introduction Repton writes:

‘To improve the scenery of a country, and to display its native beauties with advantage, is an art which originated in England, and has therefore been called English Gardening; yet as this expression is not sufficiently appropriate, especially since Gardening, in its more confined sense of Horticulture, has been likewise brought to the greatest perfection in this country, I have adopted the term Landscape Gardening, as most proper, because the art can only be advanced and perfected by the united powers of the landscape painter and the practical gardener’.

One of Humphry Repton’s eighteenth century pop up books has now come to digital life thanks to the State Library of New South Wales, Australia.  

Experimentation with open-source slider technology enabled curator Sarah Morley to find a new way to experience the famous 'Red Books' of Repton. The technology ‘helps storytellers compare two pieces of similar media, including photos, and GIFs. It’s ideal for highlighting then/now stories that explain slow changes over time’.

Move the sliders left and right to see how Repton planned to remodel his landscapes. 

Above: "A scene in the garden at Brandsbury, where a sunk fence is used instead of the pale, which had been so injudiciously placed as to exclude a very rich and distant prospect".

Above: "The effect of removing trees, in the oblique view of an avenue at Langley Park".

The sliders were produced by the DX Lab at the State Library of New South Wales.

For more Red Book sliders and further information please visit the State Library of NSW website. 

With thanks to Paula Bray and Sarah Morley for this article and the State Library of New South Wales, Australia, for permission to reproduce the images.