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A world of play and childhood

Posted: 28th April 2016

This summer, the National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire is set to celebrate one of Britain’s best-loved authors and illustrators in a special exhibition.

Marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Beatrix Potter, the exhibition features a delightful collection of 30 original watercolours and drawings by perhaps the world’s most beloved children’s illustrator and author, alongside a small selection of vintage Beatrix Potter dolls and figurines.

Beatrix Potter: Play and Childhood offers a unique opportunity to see these artworks, which, due to light sensitivity, are rarely shown outside of their permanent home in the Lake District.  

The collection showcases some of Beatrix Potter’s most famous characters, whilst taking you on a journey into the world of play and childhood, from Peter Rabbit’s naughty antics to the Two Bad Mice as they wreak havoc in a doll’s house. 

When Beatrix Potter was born in 1866, children from respectable families were expected to be seen and not heard, whilst children’s books were filled with sentimental moral tales designed to shape them into responsible members of society.

Despite her conventional upbringing, Beatrix’s sense of fun and her fascination with the natural world – developed on family holidays and inspired by the behaviour of her own pets – ensured that when she began writing for children, the tone was very different. She also added humour to her tales, and a touch of darkness to the age old formula where the good triumph over the greedy, wicked, or just plain feckless.

Beatrix’s unique combination of storytelling skill and a naturalist’s eye for detail have provided a lasting appeal, inviting us to revel in the chaos that ensues when rules are broken. Impertinent squirrels sing riddles to wise old owls, curious kittens ruin their clothes cavorting in the garden, and rabbits and piglets range far and wide on gloriously hazardous adventures.

Many of the illustrations on show at Mottisfont are based on landscapes and experiences familiar to Beatrix. For instance, Lucie, the little girl in a white pinafore chatting to hedgehog washerwoman Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, was based on one of the daughters of the local vicar.

Accompanying the show is an extensive Beatrix Potter family trail, inspired by her playful characters and colourful stories. The route takes children on an adventure around the grounds, with activities to complete and puzzles to solve.

On set weekends over the summer holidays, families can enjoy a host of additional Beatrix Potter-themed fun, including storytelling and drop-in sessions with artists. These will run on 30th-31st July, 13th-14th and 27th-28th August.

Plus, on 22nd July, there’s more Beatrix Potter-themed fun with Quantum Theatre’s production Once Upon a Time there were Four Little Rabbits, which tells the story of the mischievous Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny.

And on 28th July - Beatrix’s actual birthday - bring blankets, picnics and birthday buns and join in the celebrations on the lawn, with storytelling and party games.


Louise Govier, curator of Mottisfont’s gallery, explained: “We’re so excited to be able to bring the art of Beatrix Potter to the south. These are wonderful works, and they’re surprisingly subversive – I think we love them because they delight in naughtiness and the sometimes irrepressible urge to play.

“They’ll work very well in our gallery: Mottisfont is an old house that’s full of hidden corners, and it’s easy to imagine Beatrix Potter’s characters being just out of sight, and of course up to no good!”

Beatrix Potter: Play and Childhood runs from 16th July to 18th September 2016. For more information on Mottisfont visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont, or call 01794 340757. Mottisfont, Oakley Rd, Romsey SO51 0LP