Filled with charm, the V&A’s exhibition perfectly captures the world of Beatrix Potter and her family’s love of nature – but it feels as though it could have been presented in a slightly better way.
This family friendly exhibition is a great way to get re-acquainted with Beatrix Potter’s beloved animal characters and stories that have charmed millions of children since they have been published. But it also gives a great background to her family and how she became passionate about nature and drawing from an early age, using a wide variety of objects and documents to demonstrate this.
Created in collaboration with the National Trust, Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature does not have quite the theatrical flair as other Victoria and Albert Museum exhibitions – but given that the author was quite modest this is perhaps a genuine and respectful way of capturing her life and career – although the dimness in lighting in certain moments can make it difficult to truly appreciate the exquisiteness of the author and illustrator’s work. This being said, it is still fascinating to see how expansive her work was and the surprising different ways in style she was able to adapt her skills, with some truly beautiful landscape artwork and even still life (keep an eye out for a wonderful drawing of a mushroom that she did).
Starting with background to her family, all of whom were creative in their own right, with Beatrix’s father Rupert being a photographer and her mother Helen showing a strong hand for drawing for example. Rupert’s photographs are dotted throughout the exhibition, adding a sense of intimacy and insight into the private life of Beatrix. The family’s numerous holidays to the countryside were a perfect opportunity for Beatrix to hone her skills as an artist from an early age, while a variety of unexpected pets that she and brother Bertram took on helped them study nature (in some very grim ways such as dissection as one room makes clear). It was clear that her love of nature was there from an extremely early age.
While of course her books feature a lot throughout the exhibition, with numerous completed artwork for some of her most famous ones on display that will delight and make you want to go and read the stories again, I would have loved more detail on Potter’s process for creating the characters and stories that would allow her voice to shine through a little bit more. There are immersive aspects to the exhibition, designed to keep children entertained – whether it is sitting down and looking through some of the stories or making the most of the dressing up outfits available, while little fun explanations next to the formal information have been charmingly written to get children to engage with what they are seeing and hopefully generate conversations with their parents.
You leave this exhibition really understanding the depth of the love and relationship that Beatrix Potter had with nature that shines through every sketch of hers that is on display. A charming exhibition that is just slightly disappointing in the way in which it has been presented.
By Emma Clarendon
Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum until the 8th January 2023.