Beatrix Potter and Her Family Enjoyed Art Together

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Ray and I spent happy hours at the Frist Art Museum in Nashville a few days ago. We were there to see Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature, an exhibit featuring the life and art of Beatrix Potter, consisting of items in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This is the entrance to the exhibit.

Beatrix Potter grew up and spent her young adulthood with her family in a new five-story house in the Kensington area of London. Frequent trips to London museums and to the English and Scottish countryside gave her a deep love of the nature she drew and painted from the time she was a child. Builders erected more and more homes in the Kensington area as Beatrix grew up. When she was a teenager, she was sad to see the last of Kensington’s orchards get cut down for more buildings. She called London her “unloved” home because she found her joy in the country.

A few days after our visit to the Frist, Ray and I watched the movie Miss Potter. The movie depicts the family very differently from how the Victoria and Albert Museum depicts it in the exhibit we saw at the Frist. For example, the movie portrays her mother as having no appreciation for art, but that is not true. All four of the Potters—mother, Helen; father, Rupert; daughter, Beatrix; and younger brother, Bertram—shared a love of art. The exhibit at the Frist had a pretty landscape drawing by her mother and photographs by her father, who displayed his photographs at exhibitions in London and who took hundreds of photos of Beatrix. We saw several of these in the exhibit. As a young man, her brother, Bertram, did etching, as well as landscape painting. The exhibit had one of Bertram’s sketchbooks.

Rupert Potter and the children practiced drawing together. They copied animals from art instruction books. The exhibit had a ceramic plate with a transfer of a blue tit (a kind of bird) drawn by Mr. Potter and a trivet with a transfer of rabbits drawn by Beatrix. When Beatrix was 12 years old, her parents gave her private art lessons to encourage her talent.

Rupert Potter took his daughter on visits to the studio of painter Sir John Everett Millais. The studio was near their home in Kensington. Millais was a close friend of Mr. Potter, who helped the painter by taking photos of backgrounds that he would use in his artwork. When Beatrix showed Millais her drawings, he encouraged her, telling her that many people can draw but that she had “observation.” My own experience with art has taught me that much of art involves what our eyes can see and how our hearts and minds respond to that.

The Potters were wealthy, as were many of her relatives, some of whom had very good art collections. Her father purchased drawings by Randolph Caldecott, the English children’s book illustrator for whom the Caldecott Medal is named. Each year an American picture book is chosen as the winner of the Caldecott Medal.

Beatrix Potter was particularly close to her father’s lively mother, Jessie Potter. She was also fond of her father’s father, Edmund Potter, who helped to found the Manchester (England) School of Art. Grandfather Potter was a tradesman who sold colorful calico fabric. Beatrix liked to sew. We saw a portfolio she made by sewing pieces of fabrics printed at her grandfather’s business together into a patchwork design. Edmund and Jessie eventually moved to a large estate outside of London. Beatrix enjoyed visiting them there. She called their estate the place she loved best. After her grandmother died, she asked to keep a heart-shaped chair that was in the bedroom she stayed in when she was there. She later included the chair in some of her book illustrations.

I know little about Beatrix Potter’s personal faith, but as a person created in the image of God, she certainly displayed His handiwork as she drew the things He had made.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
Sea monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling His word;
Mountains and all hills;
Fruit trees and all cedars;
Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and winged fowl;
Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
Both young men and virgins;
Old men and children.
Psalm 148:7-12



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