Humphry Repton 2018

 

Next year will commemorate 200 years since the death of Humphry Repton (1752 – 1818) a significant and prolific landscape gardener.   His career spanned the transition between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which made him one of the last great C18th landscapers and a notable and self-proclaimed successor to Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Repton would capture his ides for the changes to his clients and potential clients landscape in beautiful watercolours, which were bound in red leather books.

 

Significance

Humphry Repton published widely including three treatises on landscape gardening between 1795 – 1808, which detailed his observations on the practice of and writings about landscape gardening.  These publications were as beautifully illustrated as the Red Books and by incorporating his experiences of work with the architect John Nash sought to garner the interest in the profession to a wide readership.  Collectively, the Red Books and publications provide a detailed account of his working practice and design ideas and capture the development of landscape gardening in England during the early nineteenth century. 

His work for a succeeding generation of the country’s wealthiest landowners, nobility and royal family eager to commission new works and his collaboration with John Nash who became as equally prolific in architecture as Repton was in landscape design defined a unique era of collective practice in both.  Repton’s sons, John Adey Repton and George Stanley Repton both trained under the tutorship of Nash.  John Adey’s work is strongly influenced by his father’s style and he is noted for his commissions in Europe, in particular for Prince Puckler-Muskau at Muskau Park in Germany. 

Repton’s influence continues to be evident in the landscapes associated with the architect John Nash after their partnership weakens and Repton’s untimely death.  It is also evident in the work of his son John Adey Repton across the Netherlands and Germany.  His reputation and influence continues well into the Victorian era in the work of John Claudius Loudon who published Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the Late Humphry Repton in 1840. 

 

Red Books

His design ideas were captured in red leather bound books, known as Red Books, hand produced and beautifully illustrated in watercolour with recommendations to improve to the prospect to and from his client’s country houses.  He also included detailed proposals for the layout of the garden and designs for its associated garden buildings.  These Red Books often captured his opinions on landscape design:  ‘When called upon for my opinion concerning the improvement of a place, I have generally delivered it in writing, bound in a small book, containing maps and sketches, to explain the alterations proposed: this is called the Red Book of the place; and thus my opinions have been diffused over the kingdom in nearly two hundred such manuscript volumes’ [1].

In the Red Book for Attingham Park in Shropshire he carefully defends the reputation of his predecessor Lancelot Brown from a vitriolic attack on his works by Sir Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight keen advocates, like Repton, of the Picturesque without committing himself to fully supporting either.  In so doing he positioned himself between the discussions about the art of landscape and the more practical approach that his predecessor Brown had taken.  This intelligent and mature approach avoided controversy associated with the subject and was more favourable with his society clients who would seek to avoid such conflict.

Repton, like Brown before him, became the ‘must have’ landscape gardener of his time.  During his career Repton produced designs for over four hundred potential works for clients that included built architecture and landscape gardens many of which were implemented and exist today.

 

[1] Repton in Observations on the Theory and Practice of landscape Gardening (London, 1805) from an online article http://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/humphrey-repton-observations-theory-and-practice-landscape-gardening