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Beatrix Potter Exhibition at The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library & Museum is pleased to present Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature. Opening February 23 and on view through June 9, 2024, the exhibition tells the life story of Beatrix Potter, one of the twentieth century’s best-loved authors of children’s fiction. The exhibition is rooted in Potter’s relationship with the natural world, from the influence of the countryside in her youth to her passion for sheep farming and land conservation in adulthood. 

Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, the exhibition brings together artworks, books, manuscripts, and artifacts from several institutions in the United Kingdom, including the V&A, the National Trust, and the Armitt Museum and Library. Paired with the Morgan’s exceptional collection of Potter’s picture letters, these objects show how her innovative blend of scientific observation and imaginative storytelling shaped some of the world’s most popular children’s books.

The first section, Town and Country, establishes a sense of the places and spaces that defined Potter’s childhood, starting with her life in South Kensington, London. Exploring Potter’s family life and her development as an artist, this section includes early sketchbooks, objects from her home, artwork by her family, and even a page of an encrypted diary that Potter kept from her adolescence into her 30s.

The next section, Under the Microscope, examines Potter’s interest in the natural sciences, including insects, anatomy, and mycology, or the study of fungi. This section traces the fascination with animals that Potter shared with her brother, Bertram, highlighting their collection of pets, which the siblings studied by making drawings. It also showcases Potter’s work as an amateur mycologist through the display of intricate and scientifically impressive drawings of fungi.

The subsection “In the Country” delves into Potter’s formative childhood summers spent in Scotland and in northwest England’s Lake District, where she collected fossils, fungi, and other natural ephemera. It explores the influence of these travels with her family, emphasizing how nature shaped Potter’s artistic process, as seen in early sketches and picture letters depicting natural scenery.

The third section, A Natural Storyteller, reveals Potter’s almost accidental journey to becoming a best-selling author, centering on the beloved books that Potter wrote for children and the stories behind them. This section builds from her early commercial holiday card designs to her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. On view are preparatory sketches for Peter Rabbit, as well as Potter’s paintings of the real-life places that inspired Mr. McGregor’s garden in The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. The installation includes miniatures that reflect the small scale of many of Potter’s stories, including tiny letters that she wrote in the voices of her characters and sent to children.

Small-scale reading is central to an understanding of Potter’s work, and many of her “little books” that she published following The Tale of Peter Rabbit are also on view.

Finally, the section Living Nature follows Potter into her later life in the Lake District in northwest England. Through letters, photographs, and paintings, the section shows how Potter transitioned away from working as an illustrator and writer in order to dedicate herself to her community and its environment through farming and conservation. The show ends with a look at the four thousand acres she bequeathed to the UK’s National Trust, highlighting Potter’s extraordinary legacy, which persists not only in her books but in the environment itself: her efforts helped preserve the natural spaces that fostered her scientific pursuits and fired her imagination. Today, the National Trust owns and cares for over twenty percent of the Lake District, now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other highlights from the exhibition include an 1893 picture letter from Potter to a child named Noel Moore, in which she tells for the first time the story that would eventually become The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Also on view are personal effects from Potter’s life, from an early childhood paint box to a walking stick and clogs used in her later years in the Lake District.

This exhibition at the Morgan is organized by Philip Palmer, Robert H. Taylor Curator and Department Head of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, and was created by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature will be on view at the Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th St., New York, NY, from February 23rd through June 9, 2024.