When I was in London this past May, I was able to visit the special exhibit on Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature at the Victoria and Albert Museum. While it wasn’t a large exhibit, I was particularly interested in its emphasis on Potter’s life as a natural scientist and conservationist.
Although Helen Beatrix Potter was born in Victorian London, she would go on to spend much of her time in the country, particularly Scotland and the Lake District. Many know Potter for her lively creatures in her childhood stories, but her love of animals and nature extended beyond the page. She supported the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty and worked to preserve not only on a national scale but also her own farming practices.
Throughout the exhibit, it was lovely to see a sketchbook from when she was nine, tracing roses in the pages and then her art later in life. Her preference for watercolours throughout her life (even disregarding her teacher pressing for the use of oils) led her to be extremely skilled in the art.
Not only were sketches of animals included in the exhibit, a photo of her with her pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, leaves no doubt where she would have thought up her loveable Peter Rabbit. Of course, there were various editions of her written works as well.
However, one of my favourite pieces in the exhibit was the specimen cabinet. Made up of 16 thin drawers that held everything from pinned beetles and butterflies, to rocks and fossils. Potter dabbled in taxidermy as well, with one quote highlighted:
“Dusting and mending our little bone cupboards, when that containing the collection of British mice descended bodily upon my head amid a shower of glass eyes” (Journal, 11 November 1895).
I highly recommend adding this to any London itinerary that is taking you to the V&A. The exhibit runs until January 2023.