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Humphry Repton’s Red Books

November 5, 2010

The Morgan Library and Museum in New York currently has a fantastic online exhibition of Humphry Repton’s Red Books.  Repton (1752-1818) at age 16 was apprenticed to a textile merchant and later set up a business of his own, but this was not a success.  After the death of his well-to-do parents he retired to a small country estate in 1778.  Repton began to design gardens for his landed neighbors, and by 1788 he set himself up in business again, this time as a landscape gardener.  Bound in red leather, a Red Book was the means by which Repton conveyed his proposal to a landowner for improvements to his estate.  The perceived faults and proposed remedies were written down as well as demonstrated in plan and rendering.  The most interesting renderings showed before and after views by means of a hinged or sliding piece of paper.  The before view was the view you saw first, and the after view was unveiled by flipping or sliding a portion of the drawing to the side.  Invariably the recommendations consisted of planting or removing groups of trees, rerouting the entry drive, constructing an interesting structure in the distant view, and often, refacing the house in a stucco finish.

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From → Exhibitions

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