Newly Discovered Beatrix Potter Drawings Go On Display
When the news is dark, there is only so much of it that you can read. So here is a joyful surprise, for those who love the work of English writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter (1866-1943). Four previously unknown drawings by the “Peter Rabbit” author were recently discovered in Melford Hall, an English country house built in the 16th century. The discovery and resulting exhibition coincides with celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth.
Beatrix Potter was a regular visitor to the Melford estate, which was owned by her cousin’s husband, and she often brought pets and toys as gifts for their children. The family still lives in the house today, and among other treasures possess the original prototype “Jemima Puddleduck” stuffed animal, which the author gave to her cousin’s children. However no one suspected that there were hidden treasures in the house, as Josephine Waters, the manager of the property, described in a press release from the National Trust:
“I was moving a bookcase together with a colleague, and whilst we were going through some of the books we discovered a drawing tucked inside, it was classic Potter style and we immediately knew it was one of hers,” said Josephine. ” It was an absolutely spine-tingling moment, I remember all the hairs on the back on my neck stood up as we realised what we’d found. Working with a collection like this, it was a dream come true.”
For those who think of Beatrix Potter exclusively as a writer and illustrator of children’s stories, these drawings will be something of a revelation. Potter was a highly skilled draughtswoman and watercolorist, who in addition to her careful observation of animals and plants, had a keen understanding of and appreciation for architecture and interior design. Perhaps the best example of this from her published work are the magnificent illustrations that accompany “The Tailor of Gloucester” (1902), where she carefully studied both the exteriors and interiors of buildings that served as the backgrounds for scenes in her stories, and then populated those scenes with the genteel creatures of her imagination.
In these newly discovered drawings, we see a series of images that reflect interior and exterior spaces on the Melford estate. One shows a bedroom or perhaps an attic at the Hall, filled with some old steamer trunks, a canopy bed, an armchair, and a painting or mirror that appears that could be hanging askew. Another drawing is a rendering of the handsome fireplace in the sitting room, with a folding screen and what is probably a Georgian workbox-on-stand off to one side. There is also a simpler drawing of the opening to a staircase that is hidden behind some oak paneling, as well as a drawing of part of the roof and one of the Tudor turrets of the house.
The exhibition “Beatrix Potter’s Melford”, which will include not only these newly-discovered drawings but others that Beatrix Potter made while visiting the estate, as well as objects associated with her and her art, opens on July 13th at Melford Hall, located about an hour SW of Cambridge, and runs until the last weekend in October.