Artists in 60 Seconds: Beatrix Potter

Public domain image courtesy Project Gutenberg
Beatrix Potter (English, 1866-1943). Peter Rabbit with a red cotton pocket-handkerchief, 1904. From "The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.". Public domain image courtesy Project Gutenberg

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:

Illustration

In addition to her familiar and beloved watercolors for the "Peter Rabbit" children's books, Miss Potter was an excellent hand at botanical art. Her detailed renderings of fungi and lichens were scientific trend setters in the era before microscopic photography was an option.

Date and Place of Birth:

July 28, 1866, Kensington, London

Life:

As a proper Victorian young lady, Beatrix Potter had the privileges that came with her parents' social standing - and an intensely lonely childhood.

After her younger brother was sent away to boarding school, her only friends were animals - mostly wild, some domesticated, and one, in particular, a pet rabbit named Peter, whom she kept on a lead during their travels. A governess gave Beatrix a few rudimentary art lessons, which the latter used to begin sketching her animal companions.

Miss Potter's desires lay with botanical art, particularly in the study of mycology. Had she had scientific credentials, had the Linnean Society of London been open to female members credentialed or otherwise, or had she been less shy, we'd know her as the (much less famous) person who first suggested that lichens are a combination of of fungi and algae. Her study, The Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, was flatly rejected in 1897 and she never again pursued its publication.

Coincidentally, it was in this same year that the genesis of the "Peter Rabbit" books was conceived.

Beatrix had been in the habit of illustrating her correspondence with little sketches for many years. A letter, written to an ill child, outlined a story of four rabbit siblings, complete with pictures of the lot and their beleaguered mother. This made the rounds, as delightful ideas do, and Beatrix was entreated to publish.

Within the next seven years, an enduring children's classic was born.

Her financial independence secured, Beatrix Potter went on to marry late, and become a sheep farmer and pioneer in land conservation. She is rightfully best remembered as an author and illustrator of her animal friends, and deserves credit for her watercolors' making them friendly to many subsequent generations of children around the globe.

Important Works:

  • Beatrix Potter lavishly illustrated each of the 25 "little books" she wrote. I can't presume to single a few out. It is my strong belief that any one of her hundreds of playful, sensitive watercolors may be "important" to each of us for our own individual reasons.

Date and Place of Death:

December 22, 1943, Near Sawrey, Cumbria

Miss Potter died at her home, Hill Top Farm.

Quotes From Beatrix Potter:

  • I don't know what to write you, so I shall tell you the story about four little rabbits, whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter ... - from her illustrated letter to Noel Moore (son of one of her former governesses), sent when he was ill with scarlet fever. This kind thought led to the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit some seven years later.
  • I do not remember a time when I did not try to invent pictures and make for myself a fairyland amongst the wild flowers, the animals, fungi, mosses, woods and streams, all the thousand objects of the countryside.
  • Thank God I have the seeing eye, that is to say, as I lie in bed I can walk step by step on the fells and rough land seeing every stone and flower and patch of bog and cotton pass where my old legs will never take me again.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Hobbs, Anne Stevenson. Beatrix Potter's Art.
    London : Frederick Warne and Company, 1990.

  • Lane, Margaret. The Tale of Beatrix Potter : A Biography.
    London : Frederick Warne and Company, 1968 (rev. ed.).

  • Linder, Leslie (ed.). The Art of Beatrix Potter.
    London : Frederick Warne and Company, 1955 (6th rev. 1972).

  • Slowe, V. A. J. "Potter, (Helen) Beatrix"
    Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, 15 April 2006.
  • Whalley, Joyce I., et. al. (eds.). Beatrix Potter 1866-1943: The Artist and Her World.
    London : Frederick Warne and Company, 1988.

    Videos Worth Watching

    • Beatrix Potter: A Private World (1973)

    • Beatrix Potter: Artist Storyteller (1993)

    Go to Artist Profiles: Names beginning with "P" or Artist Profiles: Main Index

    Format
    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Esaak, Shelley. "Artists in 60 Seconds: Beatrix Potter." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/beatrix-potter-quick-facts-183390. Esaak, Shelley. (2016, August 9). Artists in 60 Seconds: Beatrix Potter. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/beatrix-potter-quick-facts-183390 Esaak, Shelley. "Artists in 60 Seconds: Beatrix Potter." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/beatrix-potter-quick-facts-183390 (accessed November 20, 2017).