As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the much-loved author, Danielle Wilkins explores the life and works of artist and storyteller Beatrix Potter
For decades, few childhoods have been complete without a treasured copy of The Tale of Peter Rabbit lurking on bookshelves, tucked underneath pillows and hidden inside toy boxes; the story of the mischievous, vegetable-thieving bunny who snuck into Mr McGregor’s garden, experienced some unfortunate events, and was finally put to bed with a spoonful of chamomile tea. Author Beatrix Potter has been delighting generations of children for more than 115 years with her animal tales, which have gone on to be immortalised through a vast range of toys, crafts and clothes.
Potter was born on 28 July 1866 in Kensington, and later studied and worked at Kew Gardens producing botanical drawings. But she had a lifelong love of the countryside and later retired to Hill Top Farm in Cumbria, a location that would become a feature in many of her tales.
It was her childhood pet rabbits, Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper, who inspired her stories. After being rejected by several publishers, Potter decided to produce The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself, printing 250 copies for friends. Its success soon forced Frederick Warne & Co, who had previously turned it down, to reconsider. Upon publication in October 1902, it was a bestseller.
This July, Potter would be celebrating her 150th birthday and, rather unsurprisingly, the world is keen to celebrate with her. There will be showcases of her works, alongside limited-edition products and literary events.
For traditional collectors, the Royal Mint has released four colour 50p coins featuring some of the much-loved characters alongside its uncoloured Beatrix Potter coin collection, which is expected to start circulating this summer. For design devotees, Penguin Random House Children has teamed up with five iconic British designers to re-release five of Potter’s classics with new high-fashion covers in July.
Last but not least, a previously unseen Potter story featuring an older (and somewhat portlier) Peter Rabbit – The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots – is set to be published in September, 100 years after it was written, with illustrations by Quentin Blake. The tale was left unfinished after “interruptions began”, according to letters from Potter in the V&A archives. She never returned to it, and it remained unillustrated apart from one colour sketch of Kitty-in-Boots and a pencil drawing of arch-villain Mr Tod, when she died in 1943, aged 77.
Globally, a Beatrix Potter book is sold every 15 seconds – the author is as popular now as she ever was. And, as the new tale reveals, she is still surprising us to this day. Here’s to another 150 years of magical reading.