Once upon a time, there was only one famous Potter and she had the first name of Beatrix. Actually, that was her middle name as she was born Helen Beatrix Potter but who remembers that? Reading the three introductions to this book, ‘The Art Of Beatrix Potter’, there is a strong reminder that although her life and children’s books have been deeply analysed, little has been done to look over her body of artwork as a whole.
Beatrix Potter and her brother, Bertram, were taught at home by tutors and didn’t mix with children of their own age, hence they were both more interested in wildlife. The descriptions of isolation and such will be familiar to a lot of you reading here as its all the makings of being a specialised geek with a flourish of imagination which she obviously had. Even flicking through the pages, the art away from her children’s books shows a truly accomplished watercolour artist learning from two tutors, whom she out-grew, but never very keen on drawing people.
Potter didn’t start off as a storyteller but as a naturalist and landscape painter. Whether it was with pen and ink or watercolour, she observed from life and gave superb renditions. It was only when she painted a humanoid rabbit for a Christmas card and provided a story later that Potter found a financially rewarding occupation. I watched the ‘Miss Potter’ (2006) film recently and it really missed out a lot of her early life and her wildlife and fungus paintings, some of which did creep into her children’s books.
She printed a small print run of her first book, ‘The Tale Of Peter Rabbit’, after not being able to sell it to any publisher and, then later, one of the same publishers saw it and took her on and got a 50,000 copy advance order. From there, the rest is history.
Her travels away from London gave her all the necessary backgrounds for the various children’s books she wrote and painted. As already pointed out, she was also an expert on fungi although women’s place in science got her mostly ignored by Kew Botanical Gardens, as indeed were any potential female scientists at that time.
This isn’t to say her children’s books aren’t covered. Mostly, its covers, originally brown background not the white we see today, but the focus is on the real places she painted before transposing into source for the stories.
Watercolours in those days had a habit of looking like mud without a lot of control. Potter comments in some of the comments that she didn’t always think her paintbox was up to the task she was painting on occasion. Looking at the work here, I suspect she didn’t mix much water before putting brush to paper. She certainly wouldn’t have gotten the dry effects without that kind of control.
As with all paintings, it’s getting the right colours and Beatrix Potter certainly had her eye in for getting it right. It was only her failing eyesight and farming activities that reduced the number of paintings she finally did in her later years. Even so, this book of her art is a lasting legacy that deserves to be in any art fan’s collection for all sorts of reasons and I’ve taken enormous delight in both reading Emily Zach’s text and admiring Beatrix Potter’s skill with a brush.
(pub: Chronicle Books. 255 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4521-5127-4)