Repton, Humphry, 1752-1818, Vinters in Kent, a seat of James Whatman Esqr, 1797
- Vinters in Kent, a seat of James Whatman Esqr.
- Alternate Title(s):
- Red Book for Vinters in Kent, a seat of James Whatman Esqr.
Vinters Red Book
- Physical Description:
- 1 v. ( leaves) : ill. ; 22 x 30 cm
- Rare Books and ManuscriptsFolio A 2011 13Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon FundAccessible by request in the Study Room [Request]
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- Copyright Status:
- Public Domain
- Archives & Manuscripts
- James Whatman (1741-1798) of Maidstone, Kent, purchased the 84-acre estate of Vinters in 1783, and after extensive improvements to the house and park, moved there in 1787. Like his father, James Whatman the elder (1702-1759), Whatman was one of the most important paper makers in Britain. Their primary paper operations were located at Turkey Mill, on the River Len, just south of the Vinters estate. The Whatman paper business was very sucessful thanks to the high quality of its paper production and innovations such as wove paper (introduced in 1757) and "antiquarian" paper (in 1773), all of which made Whatman papers highly desired by printers and by artists, in Britain and on the continent.
By 1797, Humphry Repton (1752-1818) had established himself as a leading landscape gardner in England. His designs for park improvements took the consistent form of a "Red Book", an oblong quarto report bound in red morocco showing his proposals with maps, watercolor views, and an elegantly copied text. The text commonly consisted of descriptions of the character and situation of an estate, followed by Repton's suggested improvements, with full-page watercolor drawings interspersed to elucidate his ideas.
A signature feature of Repton's Red Book illustrations was the use of overlays to demonstrate his proposed changes to an estate. The overlay worked by means of a hinged flap of paper affixed at the edge of a landscape view. On the top side of the flap was painted a problematic portion of the client's property; with the flap in the down position thus, the page illustrated the status quo view. When the flap was lifted up and to the side, the same landscape with Repton's "improvements" was revealed.
A Repton Red Book design typically summarized conclusions reached by Repton and his client during his visits to the client's estate. The completed Red Book served various functions. Some property owners certainly used Repton's designs to refashion their estates. Other clients had no intention of carrying out the improvements; for them, a Red Book might be used simply as a handsome album of views, to show off to family, friends, and visitors. A full study of Repton's Red Books is available in André Rogger's Landscapes of taste: the art of Humphry Repton's Red Books (London, New York: Routledge, 2007). Rogger estimates that Repton completed between 200 and 220 Red Books, the earliest in 1789. Of the 123 documented copies in Rogger's census, the present manuscript is no. 74.
In May 1797, James Whatman employed Humphry Repton to redesign the park at Vinters, for which he paid Repton 50 guineas. The Vinters Red Book was to be added to Whatman's growing library of views of Kent, the most important of which was Paul Sandby's A View of Vinters at Boxley, Kent, with Mr. Whatman's Turkey Paper Mills, 1794 (now in the collection of the Yale Center for British Art, Prints and Drawings: B2002.29). Additional views commissioned by Whatman included two separate watercolors of Vinters and Turkey Mill by William Jefferys, 1797, and three views, including one of Vinters, by John George Wood, which were engraved and published in 1800 in Wood's Views in Kent (Abbey, Scenery 173). Whatman died before the improvements suggested by Repton could be carried out.
Manuscript Red Book by Humphry Repton, comprising his recommendations for improvements to the grounds of Vinters, near Maidstone (seat of James Whatman), with Repton's seven watercolor views and map of the grounds. The map and views are on wove paper (without watermarks), affixed to stubs bound in. All leaves integral to the volume, including those bearing text, are on antique laid paper bearing the countermark of James Whatman and dated 1794.
In form and content, the present Red Book for Vinters conforms to the standardized format Repton had established by 1790, which is well described by Rogger (pp. 66-73). The title page and nine leaves of neatly copied manuscript text are written in pen and brown ink, on rectos only of each leaf. With the exception of Repton's signature at the foot of the Introduction, text is copied in a neat copperplate hand by a proffesional clerk (Rogger, p. 69). Text is framed within a border of three simple lines, in pen and blue ink. The introduction takes the form of a letter to James Whatman; Repton notes: "I have therefore digested on paper the several remarks I had the honour to make on the subject in conversation ... My opinion thus delivered becomes the sketch of a great plan to be filled up at leisure, and the blank leaves at the end of the book will serve to contain a record of the dates when each part is carried into execution." Next to Repton's signature are the notes "First visit on the spot, March, 1797. Plans sent ... May 15, 1797".
The report begins with a watercolor map and one page of text on the "Character and Situation" of Vinters, in which Repton sets down one of his principles of landscape design: "I have ever found that in proportion as a place affects to be a farm, it loses much of its pretensions to the elegance, the beauty, the magnificence, or even the neatness and convenience of a gentleman's residence ... [this notion is] peculiarly applicable to the situation and character of Vinters ... in the midst of a populous neighbourhood, the valley near the house is sequestered and private even to a degree of romance ... ". In the "Digression" that follows (2 leaves), Repton explains his preference for lawn (or pasture) over arable land. He praises the "permanent verdure" of pasture, in which animals and man alike enjoy rest, pleasure, and happiness, compared to the "changeable cloathing" of arable land, which is blighted by the "naked and comfortless appearance of its fallow state"; furthermore, "labour and hardship attend the operations of agriculture, whether cattle are tearing up the surface of the soil, or man reaping its produce". Two of Repton's primary objectives at Vinters are thus to "shut out all appearance of arable land contiguous to the dwelling" together with "the removal or concealment of fences and boundaries".
Repton's third major focus is the improvement of the meandering green dale which is "doubtless the most singular and most pleasing feature in the grounds at Vinters". Here, Repton argues that the beauty of the sloping banks could be enhanced by the removal of excess trees and brush at select spots along the valley. A watercolor illustration of this improvement shows a bright denuded hillside populated by a grazing flock of sheep. The central valley could also be improved, Repton argues, by the introduction of "a large handsome irregular shaped pool" and the enlargement of an existing pond. Much of the pool would not be visible from the house, "yet its effect ... will enliven the scene, and serve to draw attention to the scenery near home".
The views, measuring 132 x 227 mm, are full watercolors over graphite. They are bordered within double frames of yellow and gray wash. All the views are numbered, to facilitate references to them within the text. The map of the estate, measuring 211 x 416 mm, is drawn across a folded double leaf, in pen and black ink, with watercolors. Primary design features on the map are keyed with letters to facilitate references.
An engraved trade card for "H. Repton, Landscape Gardener, Hare Street near Romford, Essex" is pasted to the first free endpaper. It is entirely illustrated, drawn by Repton and engraved by Thomas Medland. The illustration depicts Repton surveying a riverside estate (with theodolite at hand) while a dozen laborers toil the earth in the background.
Affixed to a blank leaf at the end of the volume is a view, in watercolor over pen and ink, titled "Vinter's in 1783, before the alterations". The view is in a different hand and almost certainly predates Repton's production of the present Red Book.
Fairbanks, T. Papermaking and the art of watercolor in eighteenth-century Britain, p. 49-52
Rogger, A. Landscapes of taste, p. 69
Bound in contemporary gilt-tooled red morocco, with gilt edges; marbled endpapers.
- Subject Terms:
- Country homes -- England.Gardens in art.Landscape architecture -- England.Landscape gardening -- England.Landscapes in art.Maidstone (England)Repton, Humphry, 1752-1818.Vinters (Maidstone, Kent)Whatman, James, 1741-1798.
- Red books.
Watercolors -- British -- 18th century.
Trade cards -- England.
Engravings -- England -- 1797.
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