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Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter, ‘Original illustration for The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, © Frederick Warne & Co. 2006

Beatrix Potter, ‘Original illustration for The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, © Frederick Warne & Co. 2006 (click image for larger version)

Although she died in 1943, Beatrix Potter is still one of the world's best-selling and best-loved children's authors. Potter wrote and illustrated a total of 28 books, including the 23 Tales, the 'little books' that have been translated into more than 35 languages and sold over 100million copies.

The V&A holds the world's largest collection of Potter's drawings, literary manuscripts, correspondence, photographs and related materials, and hosts a changing display on particular aspects of her work in the Beatrix Potter Showcase. As a child and young adult Potter visited the V&A to study and copy prints and drawings, and, later, costumes - her illustrations of the mayor's wedding outfit in The Tailor of Gloucester (1903) are exact copies of 18th-century clothes in the museum's collections.

 Although she is best known as the creator of charming and exquisitely illustrated children's stories, Beatrix Potter had other significant talents. Achieving far more than was expected of - or thought proper for - the daughter of a rich Victorian family, she was not only an artist and writer, but a gifted natural scientist and botanical illustrator, then, later in life, an enthusiastic farmer, sheep-breeder and conservationist.

Biography

  • Biography

    Biography

    Beatrix's love of animals was shared by her brother. The children spent hours watching and sketching the menagerie of pets that lived in their schoolroom. Their collection included frogs, a tortoise, salamanders and even a bat, and was added to by occasional catches from the garden (mice, hedgehogs and rabbits) that were smuggled into the house in paper bags. The children's interest was deepened by annual holidays in Perthshire and, later, in the Lake District.

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  • Miss Potter: A Life in Photographs

    Miss Potter: A Life in Photographs

    Beatrix Potter's father Rupert took up photography in the 1860s when it was still a relatively new art form. Rupert's favourite and most forbearing subject was Beatrix herself. Photography was an expensive and laborious process but she appears to have endured patiently the elaborate choreography and the camera's uncomfortably long exposure.

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  • Recent Discoveries

    Recent Discoveries

    Beatrix's own family included many connoisseurs and practitioners of art. Edmund Potter, her paternal grandfather, had established a lucrative calico printing works and been co-founder and president of the Manchester School of Design. Her mother, Helen Leech, was a fine embroiderer and watercolourist.

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The Art of Illustrating

  

The Business of Books

 
  • All the Little Side Shows

    All the Little Side Shows

    Beatrix Potter was the first fully to exploit the merchandise possibilities of fiction. Peter Rabbit became a popular culture phenomenon twenty-five years before Walt Disney conceived his screen icon, Mickey Mouse.

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  • A Very Special Rabbit

    A Very Special Rabbit

    The 'real' Peter Rabbit was a Belgian buck rabbit called Peter Piper that was, as wrote Potter later, 'bought at a very tender age, in the Uxbridge Road, Shepherd's Bush, for the exorbitant sum of 4/6'. He was to prove a sound investment. This 'affectionate companion' lent his first name to one of the world's best-loved fictional characters and earned Beatrix Potter enduring international acclaim for the series of 'little books' that bear his name.

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  • Beatrix as Book Designer

    Beatrix as Book Designer

    Beatrix Potter showed an avid interest in the design of her books. Her proposals for title pages, endpapers, covers and bindings reveal an expert understanding of how books were put together. She was also involved in print production, carefully inspecting proofs and even recommending the most suitable method of colour printing.

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Potter & Place

 
  • The Real Mr. McGregor's Garden

    The Real Mr McGregor's Garden
    When sketching backgrounds for her book illustrations Potter would often attempt to adopt the viewpoint of an animal. She drew aspects of the kitchen garden at Fawe Park that she imagined a rabbit would find appealing: a plank walk 'under a sunny red-brick wall', towering lettuces and broad bean plants. Potter used these as the backdrops for Peter and Benjamin's adventures in Mr. McGregor's garden.

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  • Sawrey in Snow

    Sawrey in Snow

    Although never a permanent home, Hill Top Farm in Sawrey provided frequent respite from her lonely life in London. In particular, she found it a 'refreshment' to sketch outdoors, winter was a favourite time of year, when the mountain scenery, appeared 'even more impressive' covered in snow and mist. Perhaps, too, winter was a season for reflection: 'Somehow winter seems more appropriate to the sad times, than the glorious summer weather.'

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  • West Country Colours

    West Country Colours

    Beatrix Potter captured the unique patchwork beauty of the south Devon countryside, its vibrant coastal towns, romantic little cottages and expansive estuaries with impressionistic brush strokes and a surprisingly bold and rather contemporary use of colour. The rich palette of the West Country inspired not only a series of exquisite watercolours but also some of Potter's most evocative writing.

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  • Furnishing the Imagination

    Furnishing the Imagination

    From childhood, Beatrix Potter loved studying and sketching the old furnishings and oak-panelled rooms of the houses she visited. As her interest in furniture developed, so too did her yearning for independence: 'If I ever had a house I would have old furniture, oak in the dining room and Chippendale in the drawing room.'

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  • The Tailor of Gloucester

    The Tailor of Gloucester

    Beatrix went to extraordinary lengths to create an authentic setting. Passing a tailor’s shop in Chelsea one day, she deliberately tore a button off her coat and took it in to be mended so she could observe at first hand the tailor’s posture, tools and workbench.

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Nature's Lessons

 
  • A Dark Sense of Humour

    A Dark Sense of Humour

    Potter's humour, both subtle and sophisticated, is based on the familiar, domestic happenings of everyday life, such as baking, shopping and spring-cleaning. Yet there is often a sinister undercurrent to her composed and elegant prose. Her treatment of violence and death is often surprisingly blunt - Potter is rarely concerned with morality.

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  • Beauty in the Detail

    Beauty in the Detail

    At the age of eight Beatrix Potter was already studying and recording the characteristics of a wide variety of animals, birds and insects in a home-made sketchbook. This habit of spending time observing the form and structure of living things continued throughout her childhood and into adolescence.

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Beatrix Potter in the Collections

 

  • The Beatrix Potter Collections

    The Beatrix Potter Collections

    Scholarly knowledge about Beatrix Potter has at its core the work of Leslie Linder (1904-1973), an engineer who was a collector of Potter drawings. It was Linder who, 15 years after Potter's death, succeeded in breaking and then converting the secret, miniaturised code she had used to note thoughts and observations in her diary (this journal, covering the years 1881 to 1897, was published in 1966).

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