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  • Rainey Knudson

Beatrix Potter, Serious Artist (265 words)

Last fall I was lucky enough to wander into a Beatrix Potter exhibition at the V&A Museum in London. I confess I had a bit of a sure-why-not attitude. (Sidenote: I was there primarily to see a show on South Korean design, which did not disappoint.)

And then I saw this.

Beatrix Potter watercolor of a Roman shoe

And this.

Beatrix Potter watercolor studies of fossils

I had no idea that the artist behind the Peter Rabbit et al. juggernaut also painted stark, graphic watercolors of fossils and antiquities—and painted them so well. Indeed, I hastily snapped these photos thinking I would track down something better, only to find there is almost nothing to be found about Potter's archaeological studies online.

Potter is somewhat known as a naturalist (her extensive studies of fungi led to a paper she presented which, according to the Armitt Museum's website, "was not considered worthwhile at the time, but proved to be right in later years"). But I think she's been overlooked as a serious artist, and perhaps even as a scientist. Really: why hasn't someplace like the Met shown these archaeological works?

Perhaps that's the whole point of the exhibition I saw, Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, which is currently touring the U.S. (now at the High Museum in Atlanta; going to the Morgan Library in February 2024). Maybe they're trying to get people to look past the bunnies and hedgehogs in waistcoats.

Should you happen to be in a city that's hosting this show, don't miss it. Potter's studies of animals, her landscape watercolors—it's all great.


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