Art Review | ‘Beatrix Potter in America’
Soft Spot for Americans, Endorsed by Rabbits and Puddle-Ducks
By GRACE GLUECK
Published: November 29, 2005
AMHERST, Mass. - Whoa, those of you who think that Potter in children’s books means only Harry. There is another Potter in the field, by the name of Beatrix
(1866-1943), and that Harry character has a long way to go before topping her more than 100 years of success. Her “Tale of Peter Rabbit,” first published in 1902,
is still picking up new readers.
At the same time, she was writing letters to the children of a favorite governess, Annie Moore, that included anecdotes and made-up tales about her pets, which besides
rabbits included a frog and snails. One of these illustrated letters, written in 1893, tells the story of Peter Rabbit almost word for word as it was published nine years
Her first renditions of animals engaging in humanlike activities came about in the 1890’s, too, with drawings like “Mice in Their Store Room” (1891), showing two
mice in a shed, one of them holding a ring of keys, amid neat bags of grain and sheaves of wheat; and “Rabbits Dancing to a Piper” (circa 1892), a ring of rabbits
hopping gracefully around a stool occupied by one tootling on a tiny instrument.
Potter’s first professional success occurred in 1890, when she sold six designs for rabbit greeting cards for £6 (then about $30). Then, encouraged by a family friend, she
decided to rework the Peter Rabbit letter into a children’s book. Undeterred by repeated rejections, she printed an edition of 250 copies at her own expense in December
1901. (One of them is in the show.) Warne agreed to publish the book if she would redo the drawings in color. The first printing of 8,000 copies, in October 1902, was
bolstered by another one of 20,000 for the Christmas trade.
“The public must be fond of rabbits!” Beatrix wrote to her editor at Warne. “What an appalling quantity of Peter.”
But she was unstoppab