Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature at the V&A is one of the best exhibitions of her work that I have ever seen. An extensive range of finished work as well as sketches and sketchbooks, family photographs, as well the cutest display boards with little mice running across them!
Not only did it represent what her personality seems to have been, it was an interesting experience for children as well as adults. As an artist, I was intrigued to see the way she built her stories and illustrations from her own lived experiences.
And, for a woman of her time and social standing, she was remarkably independent and autonomous. One wonders what she would have been like had she lived in the present day.
Her idealism and imagination may perhaps have been given less freedom – but one never can tell. She would have remained unique, whatever time period she was born into, that’s for sure.
Her sketchbooks and letters were most revealing. The personality behind the artist is so important in understanding the work itself. As a viewer it looks very cute and cuddly, but when you look deeper into her thoughts, there is a little more to it than that. Some amount of Victorian morals and dark humour also emerge.
I was fascinated to see that Beatrix and her brother had no compunction in stuffing or mounting their pets for scientific study. That children should do so was a little gruesome to my modern sensibilities, and perhaps they might have been sent to therapy for it as children now! But, given the milieu of discovery and new discoveries that was the norm in the Victorian period, perhaps it’s not so surprising.
All in all, it was a brilliant display filled with the life and work of one of the best children’s authors and illustrators I have ever seen.
Also of interest were things that inspired Beatrix, and the curators of the exhibition related them to her work in a very natural manner. It helped rather than hindered the overall experience.
There was a section with microscopes as well for children to explore but I and many other adults enjoyed it just as much!
Beatrix’s imagination was a strong one, of that one can have no doubt. But her intelligence and strong convictions were equally important. It is through her legacy that much of the Lake District has been preserved. That contribution alone sets her apart.
If you haven’t been to the exhibition at the V&A in London yet, I strongly recommend you go!