“It was in the countryside that Potter could indulge the creative and curious personality that would not fit in neatly with the image of a proper Victorian young lady,” illustrator Eleanor Taylor writes in the book’s afterword. “Free to work as she pleased, she abandoned the sentimental Victorian art training she’d received; she wasn’t one for insincerity.”
I grew up on a steady diet of Beatrix Potter’s illustrated tales, reading about the antics of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny and even eating snacks off plates adorned with creatures from the British writer’s children’s books. But it was only a few years ago that I learned she had also made detailed studies of her surrounding flora and fauna. Naturalist art was actually Potter’s first focus before she turned to renderings of anthropomorphic rabbits, mice, and guinea pigs, and a book by Emily Zach, recently published by Chronicle Books, features many examples of her careful and highly accurate pictures. Collected together with preliminary sketches and finished illustrations of her more renowned animal characters, these glimpses of wildlife and landscapes from the British isles highlight how nature influenced her career even as she moved from reality into fantasy.