Born into an affluent society in England in 1752, Humphry Repton tried several occupations with little success until he changed his course in 1788 and decided to make his living as a professional landscape designer.

Due to his talent, determination, and marketing genius, he became the leading landscape gardener of the late 18th century. Often considered the successor of the famous landscape designer, Capability Brown, who died in 1783, Repton created huge landscaped parks out of old formal gardens and agricultural land for the British aristocracy.

Outlining the principles of landscape gardening, he wrote, “The perfection of landscape gardening consists in the four following requisites. First, it must display the natural beauties and hide the defects of every situation. Secondly, it should give the appearance of extent and freedom by carefully disguising or hiding the boundary. Thirdly, it must studiously conceal every interference of art. Fourthly, all objects of mere convenience or comfort, if incapable of being made ornamental, or of becoming proper parts of the general scenery, must be removed or concealed.”

An accomplished writer and amateur artist, Repton created a clever device to show prospective clients how he could transform their grounds. He presented his landscape plans to his clients in the form of special albums dubbed “Red Books” due to their red morocco bindings.

A typical work featured his observations on the current state of a client’s property and his recommendations on how it could be improved. The album had numerous elaborate watercolor illustrations he painted to accompany the text. Some of them had hinged or sliding overlays so the client could see before and after views of the same scene. The client could lift or slide a paper flap to see the dramatically transformed landscape.

Repton used this same technique in his published work, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening. Bound in red morocco binding, the book embodies his theories about designing landscapes for English country estates. Repton published other works on landscape gardening, including An Enquiry into the Change of Taste in Landscape (1806) and An Introduction of Indian Architecture and Gardening (1808). After surviving a serious carriage accident in 1811 resulting in his need to use a wheelchair, he retired to tend a small garden during his remaining years and died in 1818

This volume was acquired through the Carter Heyward Morris Acquisitions Endowment Fund.


A Book with Overlays

Dive into the pages of this elegant 1803 volume by Humphry Repton. Do you like the transformed landscape images?

A Book with Overlays

Click the video and learn more about how books with overlays were fashioned in the early 19th century. Wouldn’t it be fun to sketch your own garden and then create an overlay of how you wish to transform it?

Next: 3 Garden Edging Tiles

Edging tiles specifically designed for garden beds and walks appeared in English publications in the mid-nineteenth century.