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The Cutest Darn Thing You Ever Did See

Updated: Apr 6

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature at The Morgan Library & Museum.


'Mrs Rabbit pouring out the tea for Peter while her children look on', 1902-1907
'Mrs Rabbit pouring out the tea for Peter while her children look on', 1902-1907

There are certain expectations when going to a museum, the experience has a kind of choreography: a reverent hush, a slow walk from piece to piece, hands behind the back, a little nod & perhaps a quiet ‘hm’ of personal intellectual illumination. The Beatrix Potter exhibit at The Morgan Library & Museum, however, is so incredibly darling that it threatens to break this slow, quiet choreography altogether—personally, it was all I could do not to hop from piece to piece like a bunny in a cabbage patch, & forget the ‘hm’s of intellectual stimulation, the reactions I heard were barely-contained squeals of joy at how darn cute these little drawings are. In addition, while I was at the show, there was a reading of one of her legendary books to a group of children, which felt like utterly perfect background audio for wandering this heartwarming little show. 


Beatrix grew up wandering the countryside of England and honing her considerable skills in turning the creatures she observed into the cutest little characters that, to this day, remain heavy hitters in the lexicon of children’s literature: Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, among others. A childhood curiosity around animals (she & her brother collected animal skeletons, bats, all sorts of things for their cabinet of curiosities, which she would then draw with great attention to detail) blossomed into an adult career of creating stories for children. The exhibit traces her career from Christmas card illustrations & her commitment to self-publishing, to her prolific career as a writer & illustrator of whimsy & nonsense of all kinds, ‘nonsense’ being, of course, a literary genre of the time (the most famous example being Alice in Wonderland, of course). The exhibit is one adorable picture after another, with the wall texts explaining the silly little stories connected to the hedgehogs, squirrels, mice, toads, snails & a cheeky variety of enterprising creatures of all kinds that Potter brings to life through rhyme & doodle. My heart was a-flutter! 


What a different experience than, say, The Whitney Biennial, whose appeal is almost solely to the cerebral. Beatrix Potter appeals to a different part of the spirit altogether: a place that lives deep inside us all, & a place that we at Humphrey Magazine hope to appeal to as well, the joyful, carefree world of the inner child. When looking at these verdant landscapes, habitats of Potter’s snappily-dressed furry little friends, one is reminded of the odd disconnect between the values we instill in children (a love & fascination with nature) & the values of the adult world (a love & fascination with money): nowhere are the ironies of our modern industrial landscape more apparent than when we gaze at these meticulously crafted drawings, as well as the ironies of the art world—funny that such skill is relegated to the category of “illustration” rather than fine art. I would argue that it’s all about the appeal—fine art, it would seem, is defined by an appeal to the cerebral, whereas illustration is defined by an appeal to design, skill, &, in Beatrix Potter’s case, to the universally-human love of cute little animals. It was an appeal I think more museums & galleries should consider guiding them—more cuteness, I say!


Did I eat it, you ask? What’s the flavor, you wonder? Carrot cake, through & through, sweet & wholesome & thrilling, & left me wanting seconds, like a greedy little rabbit!


—The Art Fart




Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature is on view until June 9th, 2024, at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.


Captions:


  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Drawing of a hedgehog, assumed to be Mrs Tiggy, about 1904. Linder Bequest. Museum no. BP.495. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Spring, Harescombe Grange, Gloucestershire, c.1903. Given by the Linder Collection. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Design for a greetings card, 1890. Linder Bequest. Museum no. BP.442(a) & (b). © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Pencil drawing of a bridge scene and hares at play, 7 April 1876. Linder Bequest, Museum no. BP.741. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), View of Monk Coniston Moor 1909. Linder Bequest. Museum no. LB.541. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Drawing of Appley Dapply going to the cupboard, 1891. Given by the Linder Collection. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd. and the Linder Collection.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Mrs Rabbit shopping, design for Windermere Fund, 1927. Linder Bequest. Museum no. LB.1832. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Sketch of the garden at Gwaynynog, Denbigh, probably March 1909, watercolour over pencil. Museum no. LC 27/B/3 . © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter (1866–1943), Tailor of Gloucester endpaper, by Beatrix Potter, December 1903. Linder Bequest. Museum no. BP.460. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

  • Beatrix Potter, aged 15, with her dog, Spot, by Rupert Potter, about 1880 – 01. Linder Bequest. Museum no. BP.1425. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

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