As Easter rolls around the corner thoughts of spring inevitably “springs” to mind and with them, images of chocolate bunnies shortly follow. A childhood favorite story also comes to mind that features a particularly naughty Peter Rabbit, written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter.
Beatrix was born in 1866, in Kensington, London to a wealthy family. Her father, Rupert was a barrister by trade but was remembered to rather spend his time creating art and photography. Her mother, Helen was also active in the arts as a talented embroiderer and watercolourist. Beatrix was surrounded by her parent’s love of the arts from a young age and in turn showed interest and talent in art since she was small. She was encouraged to, and enjoyed, sketching the wide variety of animals that her and her brother, Bertram, kept at home. This love of animals followed her through-out her entire life.
As a teenager, she cultivated her drawing talents by drawing items viewed from under a microscope and even developed a particular interest in fungi – which garnered her an invitation by the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew. She was advised by Charles Macintosh, a naturalist, to create more technically accurate drawings and she soon began to use watercolours to do so. She became an incredibly talented scientific illustrator, and this eventually led to her being able to obtain work as a painter.
Potter’s first recorded mention of Peter Rabbit was in an illustrated letter to Noel, her former governess’s son, who was ill at the time. This letter contained an outline remarkably similar to the extended version story we now know and love today. This very letter is what Beatrix would later use as a reference what she decided to publish Peter Rabbit, illustrations and all. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was rejected by each publisher she approached and so she decided to move ahead on her own and self-publish. Later, the book’s success among her family and friends was notable so Frederick Warne & Co reconsidered their previous dismissal and Peter Rabbit rapidly became a best seller for the company.
Her colour pallet for what became known as her signature pallet lives within the pale greens, earthy browns and soft lavenders and manages to capture the natural world as well as the imaginary world that her books and illustrations live in. It was added and refined as Frederick Warne & Co started to demand small alterations to her original self-published version – a blue coat for Peter and pants for the baby guinea pigs among other small alterations. Potter herself was not impressed or happy with these particular changes and made it known to her publishers as such, but these changes continue to be a familiar sight today.