LANDSCAPES OF TASTE
The Art of Humphry’s Red Book
by André Rogger

Published in 2007 by Routledge  ISBN 10 0-415-41503-9
Reviewed by Ben Viljoen, 4 March 2011

The book consists of 284 pages , with many illustrations, most of which are in colour. The book size is quarto, an elegant tribute to Repton’s Red Books, many of which were the same size.

André Rogger, lecturer in the History and Theory of Art at the Academy of Art and Design in Lucerne, is less interested in how Repton’s designs were executed; instead he considers the Red Books as artefacts in their own right and meticulously classifies them, taking into account their construction, the water marks on the paper and by analysing the handwriting, he has deciphered which books were written by Repton and which by other hands.

He points out how our perceptions of Repton’s landscapes are shaped and guided by what we can see in his water colours rather than what we see on the ground. Even as far back as 1826, only eight years after Repton’s death, Hermann Furst Puckler-Muskau, while touring England with Repton’s Hints in Landscape Gardening to hand, complained in his letters of large discrepancies between the published depictions of Repton’s designs and the actual state of the gardens he visited.

Thanks to Repton’s Red Books and the wonderful water colours contained in them, Repton’s designs will always be with us, truly as gardens of the imagination.

When André  was researching his book he paid us a visit and I was able to show him the grounds depicted in Repton’s Red Book of Purley. I also introduced him to the collateral descendant of Anthony Morris Storer, the man who commissioned Repton in 1793. This gave André  access to the Purley Red Book which he describes on pages 50 to 57 of Landscapes of Taste.

He says that the Purley Red Book was ‘produced at the acme of Repton’s professional success as a landscape gardener’ and that it ‘constellated, in a paradigmatic form, the key features of a Repton commission’. He goes on to say that ‘for the bibliophile and art lover, Repton’s suggestions are written in faultless copperplate on sheets of high-quality laid paper, interleaved with light watercolours showing the future appearance of the property and bound in deep-red morocco with a gilt floral border.’ A view with which I totally concur having closely examined the book with great pleasure.

Sadly, Repton’s plans for Purley were never implemented so his designs must remain a landscape we can  enjoy only in our imagination.

 

 

 

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