Beatrix Potter’s work on fungi demon­strated her skill, atten­tion to detail and ana­lyt­ical artistic abil­ity. She began paint­ing them in 1888, and in 1892 met a self-taught and highly respec­ted Perthshire nat­ur­al­ist, Charlie McIntosh, who taught her their proper names while she hol­i­dayed in Dunkeld. He also sent her spe­ci­mens to her London home.

She used the illus­tra­tions in ref­er­ence books, stud­ied spe­ci­mens at the Natural History Museum, and looked for and painted rare examples in the wild.

She dis­covered how to ger­min­ate the spore from over thirty mush­rooms in advance of pro­fes­sion­als at Kew Gardens, and in 1897 she wrote a paper arising from her sci­entific obser­va­tion and invest­ig­a­tion of fungi. Her ideas were not accep­ted at the time, but they are now, and fifty nine of her water col­ours were used in a 1967 book on the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of fungi.

Flower paint­ing was a con­ven­tional sub­ject for a girl of Beatrix’s class. From a young age she drew inspir­a­tion from books such as John E. Sowerby’s British Wild Flowers, a lav­ish present from her grand­mother, and Vere Foster’s pop­u­lar draw­ing manuals.

Mostly, how­ever, Beatrix shared the Pre-Raphaelites’ pas­sion for the ‘metic­u­lous copy­ing of flowers & plants’ from life. Her draw­ings blend char­ac­ter­ist­ics of botan­ical illus­tra­tion, con­cerned with the accur­ate depic­tion and iden­ti­fic­a­tion of plants, with those of flower paint­ing, a gen­teel art cel­eb­rat­ing the beauty of nature.

Whether draw­ing for ser­i­ous study or for enjoy­ment, Beatrix Potter com­bines sci­entific detach­ment with a keen sense of won­der and an expert appre­ci­ation of com­pos­i­tion and design.

Beatrix Potter later remarked that the ‘care­ful botan­ical stud­ies of my youth’ informed the ‘real­ity’ of her fantasy draw­ings. Precisely drawn flowers illus­trate her pret­ti­est and best known books: gerani­ums in The Tale of Peter Rabbit; carna­tions and fuch­sias in The Tale of Benjamin Bunny; water lilies in The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher; fox­gloves in The Tale of Jemima Puddle-duck, and an abund­ance of lilies, pan­sies, roses and snap­dragons in The Tale of Tom Kitten.’

beatrix-potter-fungi
Botanical art­work cour­tesy of the Armitt Museum, Ambleside