Potter grew up in an artistic and wealthy family in Kensington. She took private art lessons and soon showed a precocious talent for sketching and drawings. A friend of the family, the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais told her that while plenty of people could draw, she had ‘observation’.
Indeed, Potter was a keen observer of nature and animals, and those observational skills and astuteness led her to develop her own expertise of the natural world at a time when young middle-class women couldn’t go to school. She and her brother Bertram collected and carefully observed pets, insects, rocks and fungi. They would keep them in their nursery and study them through a microscope – something visitors to the exhibition are invited to do as well.
As for life in the countryside, it was limited to family holidays at Potter’s grandparents’ in Hertfordshire or trips to Wales with her cousins, but this was enough to inspire her, as some delightful watercolours of gardens filled with mischievous characters show.
Soon she would enchant her family (and today, the V&A's visitors) with her homemade illustrated Christmas cards and short stories, and this is how she found her way toward financial independence. Following her brother’s advice, she approached a publisher. ‘Not one word did he say in praise of the cards, but he showed a mysterious desire for more,’ she noted in her journal. Peter Rabbit, was born.
Throughout the exhibition, original illustrations, personal diaries, letters and photographs help map Potter’s natural disposition to become a wonderful storyteller and a businesswoman.
It is only when she turned 47 that she settled in the Lake District, a region she had visited as a child on family holidays. In an effort to preserve the countryside she loved so much, she bought swathes of land, which she donated to the National Trust on her death.
It is impossible not to fall under the spell of Beatrix Potter's enchanting world of watercolours, drawings and illustrations, and the exhibition is a timely antidote to London’s dreary winter. A grand immersive and interactive show like Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser it is not. But it brings back fond memories of Peter Rabbit, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Squirrel Nutkin and the gang.
|What||Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature Exhibition, V&A Museum|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
12 Feb 22 – 25 Sep 22, 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here for more information|