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Chances are you have read one of Beatrix Potter’s books about a cheeky rabbit or a friendly frog or maybe even a cunning fox. Beatrix Potter’s tales have been captivating readers for over a century. Continue to read to learn what inspired the illustrator to create a world where animals walked on two legs and had tea parties.  

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866, in South Kensington, Middlesex, England to a wealthy family. She was educated by governesses and grew up isolated from other children. 

Her brother Walter Bertram was born on March 14, 1872 and was her only childhood companion. They loved to draw and paint, and often made sketches of their many pets, including rabbits, mice, frogs, lizards, snakes and a bat.

Beatrix and her brother, Bertram 1878

Although she never went to school, Beatrix was intelligent and her parents employed an art teacher, Miss Cameron, and a number of governesses, including Annie Moore who taught her German and to whom she remained close throughout her life.

Beatrix with her governess, Miss Davisson

Beatrix’s earliest artist models were her pet rabbits. Her first rabbit was Benjamin Bouncer, who enjoyed buttered toast and joined the Potter family on vacation in Scotland where he went for walks on a lead. Benjamin was followed by Peter Piper, who had a talent for performing tricks, and he accompanied Beatrix everywhere.

Beatrix with Benjamin bunny.

Painting of the real Peter rabbit.

Beatrix was invited to study fungi at the Royal Gardens in Kew. She produced hundreds of detailed botanical drawings and even developed her own theory of how fungi spores reproduced. George Massee, a fungi expert presented her paper at the Linnean Society of London as women at the time were not permitted to do so. Her paper was never published but scientists still recognize her contribution to mycological research today.

Beatrix Potter drew illustrations for some of her favorite stories, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Cinderella.

Beatrix’s drawings from Alice in Wonderland

One of Beatrix’s earliest stories, Peter Rabbit, came from a picture letter originally sent to a friend’s son. After being rejected by several publishers, Beatrix decided to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit herself, printing an initial 250 copies for family and friends in December 1901. The book’s instant success encouraged Frederick Warne & Co., who had previously turned it down, to reconsider their decision, offering to take it on as long as Beatrix re-illustrated it in color. On publication in October 1902, it was an immediate bestseller.

Beatrix’s drawings from Alice in Wonderland

The following year, Beatrix published The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tailor of Gloucester and the rest of her legendary tales followed.

Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

She designed and created the first Peter Rabbit doll herself in 1903.

Original Peter Rabbit dolls

Original Peter Rabbit dolls

Beatrix explored other merchandise options, including tea sets and bedroom slippers, and remained closely involved in product development. She also invented a Peter Rabbit board game in 1904.

Income from her books enabled her to invest in farmland, including Hill Top Farm, which would become a feature in many of her tales.

Beatrix purchased large amounts of land and bred sheep. She said she was at her happiest when she was with her farm animals. She won prizes for her sheep at local shows, and became the first elected female President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association in 1943.

Beatrix and her prize winning sheep. 

Beatrix died in 1943, leaving fifteen farms and over four thousand acres of land to the National Trust.

As Beatrix instructed, Hill Top Farm was kept exactly as it had been when she lived in it, and receives thousands of visitors every year.

Beatrix’s Lake District house in England. 

Today, more than two million of Beatrix Potter books are sold across the world every year – four books every minute.

Beatrix’s art work. 

Art from Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. 

Art from The Tale of Jeremy Fisher

Artwork from Beatrix Potter. 

Artwork from Beatrix Potter. 

Artwork from Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. 

Pigling Bland

Pomeranian Pie and the Party-Pan 

The guinea Pigs Garden

Art Time! 

It’s time to use Beatrix Potter’s art as an inspiration and create unique one of a kind art.  

Supplies Needed

  • Coloring Media (watercolors, crayons, oil pastels, or color pencils) 
  • Template of your choosing (card stock works the best for watercolors)  

Use the template to color your own scene from one of Beatrix Potter’s books and use the steps to draw your own peter rabbit.

Take 4 pieces of paper, fold them in half and staple them in the center creating a book. Take inspirations from the critters in Breatrix’s books and create your own book.

Resources

If you want to know more about Beatrix Potter explore these fun titles:

 Who Was Beatrix Potter? by Sarah Fabiny 

Beatrix Potter by Charlotte Guillain

The Tale of Beatrix Potter by Sara Schonfeld