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Review: Beatrix Potter Drawn to Nature at the V&A

Review: Beatrix Potter Drawn to Nature at the V&A

BritMums reviews the Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The show runs until Sunday 8 January 2023.

Beatrix Potter Drawn to Nature promo image

Beatrix Potter is a national treasure who loves mice — but don’t let that put you off her.

I never loved Beatrix Potter, even as a child. I found her stories about woodland creatures saccharine and boring. There are so many others who would disagree with me. However the new exhibition Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature at the Victoria & Albert Museum is so amazing and tells the story of her education, her writing, her scientific study so entertainingly that you don’t need to love Beatrix Potter to be amazed by her. It might even make you forget about that movie featuring Renée Zellweger.

Here’s a great fact about Beatrix potter, creator of some of the cutest woodland characters we’ve ever seen: She used to boil the bones of her pets just study them.

Portrait of Beatrix Potter with her dog, age 15
Beatrix Potter, aged 15, with her dog, Spot, by Rupert Potter, about 1880 – 01. Linder Bequest. Museum no. BP.1425. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy Frederick Warne & Co Ltd

While these actions may not be that unusual for a certain set of Victorian children (I’m told homemade taxidermy and bone boiling were pretty typical for curious children of that era), it highlights how Beatrix Potter was not someone who wrote about cute fluffy sweet things out of sheer sentimentality. She loved nature, she loved animals – including examining them once they were dead —  and she loved the visceral and important aspects of the real natural world.

This is what I didn’t understand before I visited this exhibition. I have been hearing for sometime how groundbreaking Beatrix Potter was in terms of publishing and naturalism and even stories for children.

What this exhibition does is celebrate those stories while also while also putting front and centre, Beatrix Potter’s intense scientific curiosity about the world around her — her absolute love of nature.

illustrations of beetles by Beatrix Potter
Drawing, magnified studies of a ground beetle (Carabus nemoralis), by Beatrix Potter, about 1887. Linder Bequest. Museum no. BP.257. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy Frederick Warne & Co Ltd

She wasn’t some little sweetie pie early-days Disney.

She wanted to bring the fauna and flora of the world to life. Her curiosity about the natural world was astonishing. This is what the exhibit shows us.

It also shows us how you don’t need the big game animals or the savannahs of Africa to tell stories that connect us to the beauty of nature.

Beatrix Potter wrote about characters living in a distinct and special English countryside setting. Because she loved the English countryside. She became a farmer later in life. She campaigned for  English countryside.

I went into this exhibit thinking I might see early drafts of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and a lot of saccharine detail about why I should love its author. But throughout the exhibition I saw her amazing drawings, heard about her slightly macabre pet practices and learned about the family she grew up in.

By the end no one had to tell me that I should love Beatrix Potter because she is a national treasure. By the end, I actually did love her for everything she did and studied and drew and observed in life and death and saw and shared.

About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.