Authors & Illustrators Born in the Month of July: Beatrix Potter • July 28th 1866

The wonderful creator of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'
Illustration from 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' by Beatrix Potter

Illustration from 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' by Beatrix Potter

Helen Beatrix Potter ( 28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English writer, illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist best known for her children's books featuring animals, such as those in 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit.'

Potter was born into an upper-middle-class household and educated by governesses. Having no siblings and isolated from other children she was allowed to keep numerous pets and spent holidays in Scotland and the Lake District, developing a love of landscape, flora, and fauna, all of which she closely observed and painted. Two of Beatrix’s earliest artist models were her pet rabbits. Her first rabbit was Benjamin Bouncer, who enjoyed buttered toast and joined the Potter family on holiday in Scotland where he went for walks on a lead. Benjamin was followed by Peter Piper, who had a talent for performing tricks, and he accompanied Beatrix everywhere.

Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter

Long before she was a published author, Beatrix Potter drew illustrations for some of her favourite stories, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Cinderella, as well as her sketches from nature. Her imaginative art led to the publication of her earliest works – greeting-card designs and illustrations for the publisher Hildesheimer & Faulkner

Potter's study and watercolours of fungi were encouraged by Charles McIntosh, a revered Scottish naturalist, who urged her to make her fungi drawings more technically accurate. Beatrix not only produced beautiful watercolours but also became an adept scientific illustrator. By 1896, she had developed her own theory of how fungi spores reproduced and wrote a paper, ‘On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae.’

Fungi Illustration by Beatrix Potter

Fungi Illustration by Beatrix Potter

One of Beatrix’s earliest stories, that of Peter Rabbit, came from a picture letter originally sent to Annie Moore’s son Noel. After being rejected by several publishers, Beatrix decided to publish 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' herself, printing an initial 250 copies for family and friends in December 1901. The book’s instant success encouraged Frederick Warne & Co., who had previously turned it down, to reconsider their decision, offering to take it on as long as Beatrix re-illustrated it in colour. On publication in October 1902, it was an immediate bestseller. The following year, Beatrix published 'The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin' and 'The Tailor of Gloucester' with Frederick Warne, and the rest of her legendary tales followed.

Illustration from 'Squirrel Nutkin' by Beatrix Potter

Illustration from 'Squirrel Nutkin' by Beatrix Potter

Fredrick Warne Advertisement Illustration by Beatrix Potter

Fredrick Warne Advertisement Illustration by Beatrix Potter

Under the Teacups, Illustration by Beatrix Potter

Under the Teacups, Illustration by Beatrix Potter

Illustration from 'The Tailor of Gloucester' by Beatrix Potter

Illustration from 'The Tailor of Gloucester' by Beatrix Potter

Potter wrote thirty books; the best known being her twenty-three children's tales. The proceeds from the books and a legacy from an aunt, in 1905 enabled her to buy Hill Top Farm in Near Sawrey, a village in the Lake District. Over the following decades, she purchased additional farms to preserve the unique hill country landscape. In 1913, at the age of 47, she married William Heelis, a respected local solicitor from Hawkshead. Potter was also a prize-winning breeder of Herdwick sheep and a prosperous farmer keenly interested in land preservation.

She continued to write and illustrate, and to design spin-off merchandise based on her children's books for British publisher Warne until the duties of land management and her diminishing eyesight made it difficult to continue.

"Little Garden," painting by Beatrix Potter

"Little Garden," painting by Beatrix Potter

Lady Mouse in a Mobcap, 1902, by Beatrix Potter

Lady Mouse in a Mobcap, 1902, by Beatrix Potter

Potter died in 1943 at her home in Near Sawrey at the age of 77, leaving almost all her property to the National Trust. She is credited with preserving much of the land that now constitutes the Lake District National Park. Potter's books continue to sell throughout the world in many languages with her stories being retold in songs, films, ballet, and animations, and her life depicted in a feature film and television film.

Painting by Beatrix Potter

Painting by Beatrix Potter