Review: V&A's Beatrix Potter Exhibition Is A Little Too Tame

Beatrix Potter, V&A ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 16 months ago

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Review: V&A's Beatrix Potter Exhibition Is A Little Too Tame Beatrix Potter, V&A 3
A soft toy shows how Potter cashed in on her brand. Courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co.

Know your Jemima Puddleduck from your Mrs. Tiggiwinkle? If so, you'll be familiar with Beatrix Potter's anthropomorphic animal tales.

Now V&A has a major exhibition dedicated to the children's author and artist — covering her drawings, conservation efforts and the wildlife that inspired the famous illustrations and books.

It's surprising to learn such a nature lover grew up in London — Kensington, in fact, just down the road from the V&A. Potter began examining wildlife in frequent trips to Kensington Gardens, and what is now London Zoo. She kept lots of pets at home and worked with her brother on taxidermy (not the usual childhood activity, but given there were no kids' chemistry sets in the 1870s, what else is a budding scientist to do?).

Snaps of a young Beatrix from a family album. Copyright V&A.

Those who grew up with the children's books will cherish the chance to learn about Potter's life and her activist side, working with The National Trust to preserve parts of the Lake District. Even die hard fans will learn something new, including her entrepreneurial nous, cashing in on merchandising with toys, tea sets and slippers. Plus there are plenty of illustrations throughout, providing a healthy dose of nostalgia.

And therein lies the problem; if, like me, you missed out on Peter Rabbit in your early years, you may struggle to engage. It's not helped by the fact that — aside from some samples under microscopes, and clever projections of insects and mice onto the wall — there is a conspicuous lack of interactivity. With a family blockbuster like this, you'd hope for something less tame.

An illustration from the tale of Jemima Puddleduck. Copyright National Trust.

V&A has set an extremely high bar with its exhibitions lately, both Faberge and Alice earning our full five stars. This time — even with the help of Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail — this show doesn't quite manage to hop high enough to clear it.  

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature is on at V&A until 8 January 2023. Tickets are £14 for adults.

Last Updated 09 February 2022