Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature feels gloriously full-circle. Although Potter disliked London, describing her Bolton Gardens townhouse as her ‘unloved home’, she found solace during visits to the V&A, earlier known as the South Kensington Museum. As a child, she would spend hours making drawings of the collections, some of the pieces even feature in the children’s books she went on to write. Now, through a major partnership with the National Trust, the V&A presents Drawn to Nature, an exhibition celebrating Beatrix Potter’s life and work in all its facets; artist, conservationist, businesswoman, natural scientist and storyteller.
Drawn to Nature sees Beatrix Potter’s journey from her childhood in South Kensington to the Lake District, where she spent the latter part of her life. Potter noted she had an ‘irresistible desire to copy any beautiful object which strikes the eye’ and it’s clear from the works on display that from a young age, she was an accomplished artist. The exhibition is filled with Potter’s sketches; from nature, from illustrations in her favourite books and most fantastically, from her own imagination. Under one drawing of rabbit fishing from a stepping stone is a quote, ‘Half believing the picturesque superstitions of the district, seeing my own fancies so clearly that they became true to me, I lived in a separate world’. This unique perspective continued throughout Potter’s life, resulting in the publication of over twenty ever-popular children’s books, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
The display of over 200 objects, from fungi illustrations to rarely seen letters, echoes Potter’s multifarious interests perfectly. However, it’s her love of nature that is at the heart of this exhibition. It is shown through her botanical watercolours, rock collections and well-worn walking clogs. In the latter part of her life, conscious of the threats of modern development, Potter partnered with the National Trust to ensure the green spaces she loved so much were preserved. Lovely, then, to consider their involvement now in this exhibition celebrating her life. Beatrix Potter was a champion of access to nature for all, a mission that is even more important today.
Visiting Beatrix Potter: Drawn To Nature is like stepping into a storybook. Every corner presents something to be discovered; an intricate sketch to marvel at, a squeaking mouse hole to investigate, a microscope to peer through. Immersive and nostalgic, it’s the sort of exhibition that leaves you wanting to get dirt under your fingernails.
Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature runs from 12 February 2022 – 8 January 2023. Tickets start at £14 and are available here. The exhibition is co-curated by Annemarie Bilclough, Frederick Warne Curator of Illustration at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Helen Antrobus, Assistant National Curator at the National Trust. Supported by Kathryn Uhde.
Creator: Robert Thrift Copyright: ©National Trust Images/Robert Thrift
Reviewed by Amy Melling – Amy is a Curator and Creative Producer whose practice is centred around community-led arts projects. Her current research is focused on curatorial methods for exhibiting artworks outside. Amy has a keen interest in the arts and recently completed an MA in Curating and Collections at Chelsea College of Arts, UAL.