Beatrix Potter the scientific artist

(First published June 2013)

A new exhibition about the life and work of Beatrix Potter is to be staged permanently at Ambleside’s Armitt Museum.

“Beatrix Potter – Image and reality” will reveal the character of one of the most iconic and influential figures of the Lake District.

The exhibition will feature scientific paintings and drawings from the Museum’s collection, along with significant new displays. These include images from collections held by the National Trust and her publisher, Frederick Warne, along with Beatrix’s own personal first editions of the “little” books, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter’s Lake District in the early 20th century will be at the heart of the show, featuring the people who were important in her life, and her remarkable series of careers as a scientist, illustrator, artist, writer, sheep farmer and conservationist.

The permanent collection will complete a circle of Beatrix Potter attractions in the Lake District, from the World of Peter Rabbit Attraction at Bowness to her former home at Hill Top, along with the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead and Wray Castle where her family spent holidays.

Museum director Graham Kilner said that the exhibition would highlight the life of a woman who did many extraordinary things in her life. “She is known for so many different reasons and because of her many different talents. It’s fascinating to see how she reinvented herself over her lifetime.

“We will also feature the interesting characters in her life – significant friends and family, people who helped her along the way, from the artist Millais and Liberal reformer John Bright to the naturalist Charles McIntosh and the founder of the National Trust, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.”

Beatrix Potter was also an astute businesswoman who led the way in branding and licensing by patenting the first Peter Rabbit doll and all subsequent merchandise. She went on to use her wealth to secure the heritage of the Lake District.

Last year, to mark the centenary of the Armitt Museum, the Linnean Society in London staged an event celebrating Beatrix Potter’s work as a mycologist and scientific artist. (Beatrix Potter addresses her audience)

Said Mr Kilner:  “Beatrix Potter was member of the Armitt almost from its founding in 1912, and her husband, William Heelis, was an Armitt Trustee and legal advisor from its foundation. She was a major benefactor donating her books, paintings, and other memorabilia during her lifetime, and on her death in 1943 she bequeathed to us her exquisite botanical drawings and watercolours, together with her personal first edition copies of her ‘little’ books.

“With this archive together with material from the National Trust Archive, The Frederick Warne Archive, and the Beatrix Potter Society, we have created an exhibition on her life that is guaranteed to fascinate anyone who loves the Lakes.”

The creation of the new exhibition has been assisted with a grant from the Arts Council’s North West Museums Sustainability Fund.

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