‘Of Colours’, 1816

This is a hand-coloured engraved plate from the book Fragments of the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening, published in 1816. It was written by the landscape designer Humphry Repton, who worked on some early designs for the Royal Pavilion.

What can we see?

Rainbow patterns

Repton was inspired by the colour studies of the scientist Isaac Newton, who had shown how white light could be split into multiple colours with a prism.

Repton wrote a chapter in his own book entitled ‘Of Colours’, in which he explained that he had carried out some experiments with prisms, just like Newton. The three diagrams at the top of the plate show the visible spectrum – or colours of the rainbow – in varying degrees of intensity.

Colour Star

This star is formed of overlapping triangles comprising the three primary (red, yellow and blue) and three secondary colours (orange, green and violet).

The diagram was intended to help an artist or designer to choose colours that would look appealing and balanced. The term ‘harmony’ was frequently used as many people, including Newton, believed that colour could be understood in a similar way to music.

A tiny landscape, twice

Alongside his abstract diagrams Repton included two pictures of a landscape. These show how colours change early in the morning: before and just after sunrise.

Between them he lists the relative proportions of each colour according to Newton’s theories, with blue and green dominating. Repton used current scientific thinking about light and vision to create recommendations for the use of colour when creating landscape paintings and colouring prints.

Author: Alexandra Loske, Royal Pavilion Curator

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