A new exhibition celebrates Humphry Repton (1752 – 1818) and his rare and beautiful Red Books at the Garden Museum in London, from the 24th October 2018 to the 3rd February 2019. Visitors will be able to see how Repton’s career unfolded in this special exhibition which brings together Red Books and watercolour paintings, many never publicly displayed before, to celebrate the bicentenary of his death. It will display 23 Red Books, so named by Repton due to the distinctive red leather bindings he favoured. Very few remain, and this exhibition reunites the largest number of Red Books in one place in 25 years.
Ingenious in design and each one unique, the books were devised by Repton as a clever marketing tool. Clients would open the book to see Repton’s delicate watercolours of their garden as it currently appeared, and then would then lift a flap, revealing Repton’s new design for their garden as it could be.. As pages are turned, trees rise or are felled, a stream becomes a lake, an untidy farm becomes a genteel park, or, as is the case in the Sundridge Park Red Book above, a house is suddenly replaced with another, grander manor. The watercolours are interspersed with notes from Repton, often in a conversational style, recalling walks with the owner of the house during his visit. Compliments are followed by criticism, very often of the designer who had preceded Repton. As well as exploring the relationship between the interior and exterior, and between the garden and the wider landscape, the exhibition will also look at Repton himself, at his comparatively late start in landscape design (at the ripe old age of 36) and his use of a wheelchair later in life, after a carriage accident, form which he continued gardening. Christopher Woodward, Director of the Garden Museum describes opening one of Repton’s Red Books as “One of the great treats of garden history. They’re probably the most seductive client presentations ever made. Repton saw himself as the heir to Capability Brown, but they were as different as chalk and cheese. Brown was solid, silent, and masterful and made his fortune by digging and planting, not by drawing designs. Repton had been dandy, a failed entrepreneur, a social satirist and an artist before he set up as a landscape designer. He would have been great fun to travel through Jane Austen’s England with. And he was a restless, melancholy man who knew that his landscapes would change or vanish and saw these Red Books as his greatest work – and as the legacy of his genius’. The exhibition includes objects from around the world, and from public and private collections, including the Royal Collection Trust, the British Library, Royal Academy of Arts and The Oak Spring Garden Foundation. As well as seeing the Red Books and other Repton watercolours, the exhibition will include a specially commissioned digital animation of Armley, a Repton Garden in Leeds. This allows visitors to step inside and experience the magic of Repton’s designs. The exhibition is been curated by Stephen Daniels, Professor Emeritus at the University of Nottingham, who has studied Repton for 30 years, and is author of the definitive guide to Repton. His considerable expertise will bring the Red Books to life in this special exhibition.