Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature

Images above: Beatrix Potter- Drawn to Nature cover; Beatrix Potter’s sketchbook, aged 8

V&A curator Annemarie Bilclough at the Chiswick Book Festival

Beatrix Potter was not just the writer and illustrator of cute story books for children, but a serious scientist and conservationist as well as a gentlewoman farmer. This less known side to her is explored in an exhibition at the V&A which continues until Sunday 8 January.

Curator of the exhibition and co-author of a beautiful coffee table book to accompany it, Annemarie Bilclough, spoke at the Chiswick Book Festival and showed some of the drawings and research they had unearthed in the course of putting together the exhibition.

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, by Annemarie Bilclough, Richard Fortey, Sarah Glenn, Emma Laws and Liz Hunter MacFarlane explores Beatrix Potter’s achievements as a storyteller, artist, and naturalist.

As a storyteller, her characters – Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Jemima Puddleduck – have delighted children and their parents for over a century. The narratives and her characters’ foibles and personalities have made them enduring best sellers.

Images above: Peter Rabbit; Artwork for The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

Beatrix Potter the naturalist, scientist and conservationist

It is the illustrations which make them so memorable and the authors argue it was because she was so knowledgeable as a naturalist and scientist that her drawings were so realistic. She may have anthropomorphised her creatures but they were anatomically correct.

‘A creative pioneer and determined entrepreneur, she combined scientific observation with imaginative storytelling.’

The book is illustrated with her exquisite botanical drawings, humorous illustrated letters to friends, Lake District landscapes, and rarely seen photographs.

‘Potter had a passion for nature that influenced her many achievements as a naturalist, artist, storyteller, and later in life as a fervent conservationist and “gentlewoman” farmer. This book sheds light upon the connections between her art, entrepreneurial success, and legacy in preservation.’

Images above: Ground beetle, Beatrix Potter, 1887; Collector’s cabinet, National Trust

Annemarie Bilclough spoke about Potter’s progress from her childhood in South Kensington to her later years in the Lake District. She had an exceptional affinity with nature from a very early age.

She settled permanently in the Lake District in 1913 following her marriage to Lakeland solicitor William Heelis, having visited the area from the age of 16 with her parents. She had always enjoyed sketching the landscape.

In 1905, she purchased Hill Top Farm, situated by her favourite lake, Esthwaite Water and from this time she made many drawings of the area surrounding the farm.

She was highly entrepreneurial and as a conservationist had a profound impact on the preservation of the Lake District landscape.

Images above: The Mice at Work, Threading the Needle; The Rabbits’ Christmas Party; Three Little Mice Sat Down to Spin

Leslie Linder bequest gives the V&A the largest Beatrix Potter collection in the world

The V&A now looks after the largest collection of Beatrix Potter material in the world, thanks to a bequest from collector Leslie Linder, who did a lot of work himself decoding the cipher code she had invented when aged fifteen, and then used, between 1881 and 1897, to record 200,000 words of her private thoughts and observations.

Decoding Potter, including her secret journal, led to new discoveries about Beatrix Potter’s life and work.

Image above: Benjamin Bunny & Son, Greengrocers, 1891

Beatrix Potter – Drawn to Nature exhibition: V&A

Beatrix Potter – Drawn to Nature book: V&A

Our thanks to the V&A for allowing us to use the pictures.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Celebrating the Rock heritage of SW London

See also: Chiswick Book Festival 2022

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.