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The Owl and the Pussy-cat

  • Object:

    manuscript

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca.1897 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Potter, Beatrix, born 1866 - died 1943 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and pencil on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Copyright Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd.

  • Museum number:

    BP.619A

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is one of the world's best-loved children's authors and illustrators. She wrote the majority of the twenty-three Original Peter Rabbit Books between 1901 and 1913. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Frederick Warne, 1902) is her most famous and best-loved tale.

First published in America in February 1870, Edward Lear’s much loved rhyme of the owl and the pussy-cat appeared in England in time for Christmas 1870 as the opening song in Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany, and Alphabets (London: Robert John Bush, 1871). Beatrix Potter's father, Rupert, presented her with a copy of Lear's book as a Christmas present when she was four years old; it became a childhood favourite.

In the 1890s, when Potter began writing illustrated letters to amuse the children of her former governess, Annie Moore (neé Carter), she often referred to Lear's rhyme of the owl and the pussy-cat. In 1894, Potter wrote to Eric Moore, 'I have read about the owl & the pussy cat, who went to sea in a peagreen boat, but I never saw anything of that kind till today'. In 1897, she produced illustrated versions of Lear's rhyme for Eric's older brother, Nöel, and for Molly Gaddum, the daughter of her cousin, Edith. In her letter to Molly, Potter remarks, 'It is very odd to see an owl with hands, but how could he play on the guitar without them?'

Before publishing her own stories, Potter illustrated fables, fairy tales and classic texts, such as Uncle Remus, Alice in Wonderland and The Owl and the Pussy-cat. She drew largely to amuse herself, or children she knew, but also to develop her illustrative technique. Her interpretations of these well-known texts are always fresh, original, and faithful to the true nature and appearance of animals. Her depiction of Lear's pussy-cat, for example, derives from her own, sardonic sense of humour - typically, the cat appears to be more interested in the fish than in the owl's guitar playing.

In The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930), the final book in the Peter Rabbit series, Potter pays homage to Lear's rhyme of the owl and the pussy-cat. Whilst on board the ship, Pound of Candles, Little Pig Robinson overhears the crew discussing roast pork and crackling. The ship's cat helps him escape to an island with a Bong tree. Potter concludes her story, 'I have never been there myself, so I rely upon the report of the Owl and the Pussy Cat, who visited it eighteen months later, and spent a delightful honeymoon there. They spoke enthusiastically about the climate - only it was a little too warm for the Owl'.

Physical description

Illustrated manuscript produced on four sheets of folded notepaper, stitched together in the centre into a paper cover. Text and illustrations composed in pen and ink with traces of pencil. Page [1]: title and pen and ink vignette of a pot of honey and some money. Page [2]: text. Page [3]: sketch of the owl and pussy-cat in the boat, the owl playing a guitar and the cat looking at fish swimming beside the boat. Page [4]: text and vignette of the boat sailing towards an island, the sun setting behind the island. Page [5]: text and vignette of the pig standing under a tree looking at the boat in the distance. Page [6]: text and sketch of a ring and shilling coin. Page [7]: sketch of the owl and pig under a tree, the pig holding a handkerchief to its nose; the cat sits in the boat in the background. Page [8]: Sketch of the cat sailing in the boat towards an island with the owl flying overhead.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)

Date

ca.1897 (made)

Artist/maker

Potter, Beatrix, born 1866 - died 1943 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and pencil on paper

Marks and inscriptions

Title page inscribed in pencil: 'Words from Edward Lear's Nonsense Book'

Text:

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat
They took some honey
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a £5 note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above
And sang to a ? guitar
"Oh dear sweet Pussy
Oh Pussy my love!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

They sailed away for a year and a day
To the land where the Bong Tree grows -
And there in
a wood,
A Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose -
his nose!
With a ring at the end of his nose!

"Dear Pig
Are you willing
to sell for one shilling
your ring?"
Said the Piggy.
"I will!"
So they sailed away
And were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.

Cover inscribed in ink: 'The Owl and the Pussy-cat'

Watermark on paper: [crown] / CSCSL

Dimensions

Height: 0 mm Booklet (closed), Width: 0 mm Booklet (closed)

Object history note

Words from Edward Lear's rhyme, "The Owl and the Pussy-cat", copied into a home-made booklet and illustrated by Beatrix Potter in ca.1897. Acquired by the V&A from Leslie Linder (1904-1973) as part of the Linder Bequest in 1973.

Descriptive line

Illustrated manuscript by Beatrix Potter of 'The Owl and the Pussy-cat' by Edward Lear, ca.1897; Linder Bequest cat. no. LB.981.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Brief catalogue entry, no. 981
'Hobbs and Whalley, Beatrix Potter : the V&A Collection, London, 1985'

Materials

Pen and ink; Pencil; Paper; Thread

Techniques

Writing; Drawing; Stitching

Subjects depicted

Handkerchiefs; Money; Fish; Shillings; Owls; Guitars; Pigs; Boats; Cats; Islands; Trees; Sails; Rings; Honey

Categories

Drawings; Manuscripts; Illustration

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Archive of Art and Design

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