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Seeds (3): becoming Beatrix Potter


Helen Beatrix Potter born in London.


Beatrix Potter has already been doing a lot of drawing and painting. This watercolour is from 1876, a couple of months before her tenth birthday:

Beatrix Potter Early Drawing of anthropomorphic rabbits


Aged 17, she writes “I can’t settle to anything but my painting. I lost my patience over everything else.”


Beatrix Potter sells her first pieces of artwork, illustrations for a set of Christmas cards. She’s 24 years old.

Beatrix Potter Christmas card image 1890


Potter sends an illustrated letter to Noel Moore, the son of her former governess, which contains what will become the opening line of The Tale of Peter Rabbit:

Beatrix Potter Noel Moore Peter Rabbit early letter


Beatrix Potter turns the picture letter into a story. After a couple of false starts (including an alternative version of the story in verse written by another author), the book takes off. 28,000 copies – six printings – are sold by December 1902.


Potter is intimately involved in the design and publication of her books, and the development of spin-off projects and merchandising. She becomes a landowner and conservationist, “credited with preserving much of the land that now constitutes the Lake District National Park.”**


The Tale of Peter Rabbit has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

So what, Sharky?

So this is a beautiful example of an overnight success that was decades in the making. It took thirty-six years – and probably thousands of sketches and paintings – for Beatrix Potter to become Beatrix Potter. She spent thirty-six years as the seed.

For more on Beatrix Potter see Sarah Gristwood‘s The Story of Beatrix Potter, and this site from the V&A.


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