What were Humphry Repton’s Red Books?
The famous ‘Red Books’ were produced by the landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752 - 1818) to present to his clients to showcase his design proposals. They were small, filled with handwritten text and watercolour paintings, and bound with the red Morocco leather that gives them their name.
A new type of practice
In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the Red Books were an innovation, especially the use of ‘before and after’ views. They became a key part of Repton’s design practice, and were very different to the plans and maps that had been produced by landscape designers in the past.
Repton produced over 100 Red Books during the course of his career, for most of his major commissions. He was a skilled water-colourist and each book contains a number of his delicate paintings and usually include a map of the estate, showing his proposed changes.
The big reveal
Some of the watercolour paintings were designed as ‘before and after’ views – Repton carefully pasted in a flap with the ‘before’ view which could be lifted up to reveal the view ‘after’ his improvements had been carried out.
The maps and illustrations were accompanied by detailed text which described the various changes that Repton suggested.
The legacy of Repton and his Red Books
Repton’s practice as a landscape designer differed from many of his predecessors, like Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, in that Repton only produced the designs – he did not take responsibility for creating them on the ground. This work was left to the client, and in some cases his designs were never carried out, or were only partially implemented.
Today the idea of presenting a portfolio of designs to a client is a typical one, and modern garden designers and landscape architects often use before and after views – we have Repton to thank for introducing this practice nearly two hundred years ago.
Red Books in our care
We look after several Red Books, including those for Attingham Park (1798), Sheringham Park (1812), and Wimpole Estate (1801).