Humphry Repton's Red Books

Humphry Repton (1752–1818) was the leading landscape architect of his day, a master of his craft and an expert in the arts of self-promotion. Congenial, witty, and well connected, he circulated easily in the highest reaches of English society, where he could recruit wealthy clients prepared to pay handsomely for his advice. He presented his plans to his clients in the form of Red Books, thus named for their characteristic red morocco bindings. A typical album contains his observations on the present state of a client's property and his recommendations on how it might be improved. He would compose an eloquent account of his proposals, which would be written out in a fine copperplate hand. A number of watercolor illustrations would accompany the text, some of them furnished with hinged or sliding overlays making it possible to compare before-and-after views of the same scene. This online exhibition shows how Repton employed this ingenious graphic device in two of his Red Books, both so fragile that they are hard to handle safely. Here you can read them in their entirety and see how he adopted this same hide-and-reveal technique for use in his lavishly printed publications.

This online exhibition is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design, on view May 21 through August 29, 2010.