A little girl in Victorian England, Beatrix Potter was taught at home by governesses and studied art while her brother was sent away to school. She was a shy, reserved personality when interacting with the outside world, but her secret diary written in her own code, revealed a lively young girl with highly critical opinions of her fellow artists.
aged 9, courtesy of
Despite not going to school Beatrix was an enthusiastic student of nature, teaching herself while painting and drawing the things she saw around her. Her childhood sketches reveal an early fascination for the subject which would continue throughout her life. She also painted many exquisite landscapes that show her pleasure in the countryside. Click here for more information on Beatrix Potter’s Art.
Beatrix and her brother, Bertram, kept many animals in their schoolroom, from mice to birds and lizards to snakes. Beatrix Potter’s pets were often subjects for sketches and paintings, and were later to inspire the much-loved characters in her books.
In 1893 Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit in a picture letter to a little boy she knew who had been ill for a long time. In 1901 she went on to privately print 250 copies of the tale in time for Christmas. A sign of the future success of this little story, these first copies sold very quickly at a shilling each, meaning she quickly had to print another 200 two weeks later.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1902 with an initial 8000 copies printed and the tale has never been out of print since. She went on to publish another 22 little books over the next 28 years, the proceeds from which enabled her to buy Hill Top Farm in the Lake District. Eventually she went on to own 15 farms and over 4,000 acres of land in the area.
The ideal subject for the Hollywood film Miss Potter in 2006, the story of Beatrix Potter’s life held both great sadness and great success. After the tragic death of her fiancé and publisher, Norman Warne, Beatrix remained unmarried until the age of 47, when she married William Heelis, a Lake District solicitor. She dedicated her later years to preserving the ecology and natural beauty of the Lake District, becoming a farmer and breeding Herdwick sheep. She worked closely with The National Trust and left them a substantial part of her estate to be preserved as a living landscape.
The popularity of Beatrix Potter’s stories and characters has grown immeasurably since she published The Tale of Peter Rabbit over 100 years ago, aided by her own foresight and acute business sense. A woman ahead of her time, she saw the potential in her most famous character creating the first patented soft toy in 1903, making Peter Rabbit the oldest licensed character. Not only that, she left an astounding legacy of stories, characters, art and unspoiled landscape to the world.