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Illustrations from Beatrix Potter's "Peter Rabbit"

Updated on August 6, 2013

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902) by Beatrix Potter is one of the best selling books of all time; not only in the children's genre, but in any genre. It has sold over 45 million copies and it continues to maintain its popularity to this day, and it is doubtful it will ever wain in demand.

It's highly probable the reason for that is the depiction of Peter Rabbit as a little rabbit, who was in reality a proxy for all children that are mischievous and have trouble obeying. That timeless theme, and others like it, are why many books remain popular long after the author has died; they touch on things that are and will be part of the experience of people no matter how technology or the world changes in other ways.

We'll look at the story of Peter Rabbit in this article, although the focus will be on the illustrations in the story, rather than the story itself, which most people are very familiar with. Most of us surely had it read to us in our youth in order to pass on the lesson that it's important to obey or you may get in a lot of trouble, as Peter did when running around Mr. McGregor's garden. Potter wrote and illustrated the story, as she did her other works.

One thing about the illustrations of Beatrix Potter is they are very recognizable and based upon her unique style. Even though she was trained artistically when she was growing up, she decided she didn't want to copy those styles and developed here own. Sounds like she had a little bit of Peter Rabbit in her herself.

Mrs. Rabbit Giving Instruction to Peter Rabbit and Siblings

This first illustration of Mrs. Rabbit giving instruction to her family of rabbit children is indicative of what any parent or grandparent has went through many times.

She said this to them:

'Now my dears,' said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.'

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, three of the little rabbits obeyed here, but there is always one that wants to do things their way, and Peter Rabbit is ready to go to Mr. McGregor's almost immediately after leaving Mrs. Rabbit.

It's interesting in this first illustration of Potter's that Peter is already seen to be different from his siblings because he is wearing a different set of clothes than they are.

Also fun and bringing back memories is how Mrs. Rabbit is adjusting his clothes so he looks good. This is why the illustrations of Beatrix Potter are so compelling, as they capture little moments in time that we all have experienced and remember.


Peter Rabbit Sneeking into Mr. McGregor's Yard

Next is a good image that captures the moment when Peter Rabbit breaks the rules and goes under the fence to start investigating Mr. McGregor's yard. It's unlikely he understood when his mother basically told him this is where his father met his demise.

I like the way Potter makes the face of Peter look so inquisitive. That is one look coming from within that has caused all of us some type of major problem sometime in our lives.

Again, this is what makes what appears to be very simplistic stories and art of Beatrix Potter into such long-lasting tales, as she is able to take what all of us experience and feel and put them into easy to understand words and illustrations.


Peter Rabbit Eating Carrots from Mr. McGregor's Garden

It didn't take long for Peter Rabbit to start eating what he was hoping to find, as he almost immediately ran into some vegetables, apparently of which the carrots were his favorite.

Even though he is doing what he was told not to and is in a potentially dangerous situation, Peter Rabbit seems oblivious to it as he munches away on the carrots and glances up at the bird sitting on the handle of the shovel sticking in the garden soil.

His posture suggests he doesn't have a care in the world.


Peter Rabbit Being Chases by Mr. McGregor

After eating the carrots, Peter Rabbit wasn't satisfied, and walking further into the garden area he ended up running into the family nemesis - Mr. McGregor. This illustration of Beatrix Potter's shows the predictable events that follow, with Mr. McGregor chasing after Peter holding a rake in his hand.

To me what makes this picture is that wonderful look on Peter Rabbit's face where is eye is looking backwards to see where Mr. McGregor is while he runs away in another direction. I think this is another reason why Potter's tales are so attractive. She seems to have understood the essence of these little things that overall make it so fun to read and look at her books.

Children and parents alike continue to be enchanted by her works because of this.


Mr. McGregor Kicking at Peter Rabbit

After a chase around the yard and in the shed, Mr. McGregor tries to get Peter by giving a kick, which in all the action the flower pots are knocked over.

The little lines around Peter point to his being under some stress and duress as he flees for his life.

Including only the boot of Mr. McGregor as Peter Rabbit runs out the door allows for the strain Peter is under for disobeying Mrs. Rabbit to delightfully show through.

Also fun is the knocking over of the flower pots which gives it a touch of humor as the little rabbit apparently isn't thinking this is as fun as he thought it would be.

Beatrix Potter's use of soft colors is one of her practices in her illustrations, which is very recognizable in her work. This is a good example of that with the different colors and hues shown here.


Beatrix Potter's Illustrations from 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'

The point of this article isn't to retell the story of Peter Rabbit, but rather to show why with the storytelling and illustrative skill of Beatrix Potter she was able to create one of the most endearing and successful stories of all time.

It was because she was able to recognize and interpret what all of us understand and have experienced in our lives and transfer those stories into a fantastic tale which continues to fascinate and delight children and adults.

Not only that, but she also had the skill and understanding on not only how to put that into words, but also to illustrate it as well. That combination of skills is unusual in a person, and those abilities are what make Beatrix Potter's stories so popular to this day, and will surely continue to be popular well into the future.


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    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      I love this hub! Beatrix Potter is one of my personal heroes. Not only was she a successful children's book author and illustrator, she was a farmer and land owner of great repute. All of this was done at a time when women typically did not have this type of life. I have always admired Beatrix for her talent as an author and illustrator, but also for the way she lived the life she wanted rather than one scripted for her. Thank you for this excellent look into why Ms. Potter's work so resonates with us all!