What Millais thought of Beatrix Potter

On the 151st anniversary of her birth, we look back at Potter's art and the admiration it drew from one Pre-Raphaelite
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Study of Narcissus Flowers, c.1895 Pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 28 × 15 cm / 11 × 6 in by Helen Beatrix Potter. As reproduced in Plant. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Study of Narcissus Flowers, c.1895 Pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 28 × 15 cm / 11 × 6 in by Helen Beatrix Potter. As reproduced in Plant. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The children’s author and illustrator Helen Beatrix Potter has delighted and entertained generations of children. Yet, Beatrix Potter also drew an adult audience for visual art and careful studies of nature, as our book Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, makes clear.

“This delicate watercolour study of the polyanthus narcissus displays a keen eye for detail and was clearly made from life, being faithful to the subject rather than simply decorative,” explains the text in our book Plant. “The artist, Helen Beatrix Potter, is most famous for the children’s books she wrote and illustrated, including her familiar classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Less well known is that she produced many other illustrations, especially still-life studies.

“Her father, Rupert Potter, was a talented photographer who encouraged his daughter to develop her artistic talent. Largely self-taught at first, she went on to take drawing lessons and also studied at the National Art Training School in South Kensington. She developed her own style, studying nature closely and faithfully reproducing what she saw.

 

Detail from Study of Narcissus Flowers, c.1895 Pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 28 × 15 cm / 11 × 6 in by Helen Beatrix Potter. As reproduced in Plant. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Detail from Study of Narcissus Flowers, c.1895 Pen and ink and watercolour on paper, 28 × 15 cm / 11 × 6 in by Helen Beatrix Potter. As reproduced in Plant. Image courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London
 

“The famous Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Everett Millais told her: ‘Plenty of people can draw, but you have observation.’ Potter often visited the nearby museums in Kensington to deepen her knowledge of biology, and at the Victoria and Albert Museum she studied drawings, prints and costumes. It is fitting, then, that the V&A holds the world’s largest collection of her drawings, manuscripts, photographs and correspondence, in the Beatrix Potter Showcase.”

To see more beautiful, botanical paintings, photographs and illustrations, order a copy of Plant: Exploring the Botanical World, here. For more on Millais take a look at this book.


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