Peter Rabbit picture letter thumbnail 1
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Not currently on display at the V&A
On short term loan out for exhibition

Peter Rabbit picture letter

Correspondence
04/09/1893
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Beatrix Potter 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.

Beatrix Potter was twenty-seven years old when she wrote and illustrated the story of Peter Rabbit on 4 September 1893. It was written not as a book but as a letter to Noel Moore, the five year old son of Beatrix's former governess Annie Moore (née Carter). Noel was recovering from an illness so Beatrix amused him with a story inspired by her pet rabbit, Peter Piper: 'I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits, whose names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter…'.

As Annie’s family grew Beatrix wrote letters to Noel’s younger brother and sisters, including stories of an ‘excessively impertinent’ squirrel called Nutkin and a disconsolate frog, Mr. Jeremy Fisher. In 1900 Annie suggested to Beatrix that the letters might contain ideas for several children’s books. Fortunately the children had kept all their letters carefully. Beatrix selected Noel’s story of Peter Rabbit for her first published book and copied the text and illustrations onto folded sheets of thin paper. The letter includes 17 illustrations, most of which were reworked for the published story. Beatrix also lenthened the story, adding new illustrations and details such as the famous rabbit pie and Peter hiding in the watering can and sneezing.

When the manuscript of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden' was finished it contained one colour frontispiece and forty-two black and white illustrations. At first, the manuscript was rejected by publishers so Beatrix privately printed the book in an edition of 200 copies under the new title, The Tale of Peter Rabbit in December 1901, with a second edition of 250 copies in February 1902. By then Frederick Warne had agreed to publish the book and Beatrix reworked the story again, this time shortening the text and reducing the illustrations to thirty colour illustrations and a colour frontispiece. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in October 1902 in an edition of 8000 copies; by the end of the year a further 20,000 copies had been printed.

Beatrix claimed that the secret to the success of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was that it was written to a real child, not 'made to order'. This charmingly illustrated letter encapsulates something of the genius of Beatrix’s imagination. With a fresh and intimate narrative voice, she draws deeply from her lifelong passion for natural history to conjure a tale of fantasy rooted in reality. The subtle interplay of text and illustration controls pace, creates suspense, and reveals an elegant, very English irony that has come to characterize so much of her work.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Additional TitleIllustrated letter to Noel Moore (generic title)
Materials and Techniques
Ink on paper
Brief Description
Illustrated letter containing the origin of The Tale of Peter Rabbit; sent by Beatrix Potter to Noel Moore 4 September 1893 whilst on holiday in Dunkeld.
Physical Description
One sheet, folded in half to form 4 pages of text. Part of a letter consisting of two sheets fold to form 8 pages of text and illustrations in black pen. Correspondence is a story about rabbits and the illustrations and words are those which formed the basis of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published by Frederick Warne in 1902.
Dimensions
  • Height of one sheet height: 203mm
  • Width of one sheet width: 244mm
Content description
Eight pages of text and images within the correspondence:



Page one: letter addressed to "My dear Noel" from Eastwood Dunkeld, dated Sep 4th 93. Begins: "I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy Cottontail and Peter". Includes sketches of 1) each of the rabbits and 2) the rabbits all with their mother under the root of a big fir tree.



Page two: text and two illustrations: 1) of the rabbits being told by their mother "you may go into the field or down the lane, but don't go into Mr McGregor's garden". 2) of the three girl rabbits picking blackberries.



Page three: Text and 4 illustrations: 1) Peter running, 2) Peter squeezing under a fence, 3) Peter looking at lettuces, 4) Peter meeting Mr McGregor by his cucumber frame.



Page four: Text and two illustrations: 1) Peter running towards the viewer to the left with Mr McGregor chasing him with a rake, 2) Shoe within the cabbage patch.



Page five: text and two images: 1) Peter running on four legs, shoeless, 2) Peter caught in a gooseberry net.



Page six: Text and two images: 1) Hands holding basket trying to capture Peter, 2) Peter slipping under a gate with Mr McGregor in the background wielding a rake.



Page seven: Text and two illustrations: 1) Peter's clothes hung up on a pole as a scarecrow with 5 blackbirds positioned around the base, 2) Peter's ears popping out from underneath a blanket on his bed with his mother stiring a cup of tea and leaning over him.



Page eight: Text, signed at the end "Beatrix Potter". One illustration of the three girl rabbits eating blackberries out of a basket with a bowl and jug also in the foreground.
Production typeUnique
Marks and Inscriptions
Front: Page three: Mr Mcgregor came up with a basket which he intended to pop on the top of Peter, but Peter wriggled out just in time, leaving his jacket behind, and this time he found the gate, slipped underneath and ran home safely Page six: ran straight away to Mr McGregor's garden and squeezed underneath the gate. First he ate some lettuce, and some broad beans, then some radishes, and feeling rather sick, he went to look for some parsley; but round the end of the cucumber frame who should he see but Mr McGregor! Back: Page four: Mr McGregor was planting out young cabbages but he jumped up and ran after Peter waving a rake and calling out 'Stop thief!'. Peter was most dreadfully frightened and rushed all over the garden, for he had forgotten the way back to the gate. He lost one of his shoes among the cabbages. Page five: and the other shoe amongst the potatoes. After losing them he ran on four legs + went faster, so that I think he would have got away altogether, if he had not unfortunately ran into a gooseberry net and got caught fast by the large buttons on his jacket. It was a blue jacket with brass buttons, quite new.
Credit line
Pearson PLC
Object history
Written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter in Dunkeld, Scotland on 4th September 1893. The letter was acquired in a private treaty sale arranged by Sotheby's by Pearson Plc in 1990 and placed on permanent loan with the V&A from 1991. Pearson Plc bought the letter from Hospice Care, Exeter, thereby fulfilling the wishes of the original owner, who gave it to the charity to sell.
Subject depicted
Associations
Summary
Beatrix Potter 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.



Beatrix Potter was twenty-seven years old when she wrote and illustrated the story of Peter Rabbit on 4 September 1893. It was written not as a book but as a letter to Noel Moore, the five year old son of Beatrix's former governess Annie Moore (née Carter). Noel was recovering from an illness so Beatrix amused him with a story inspired by her pet rabbit, Peter Piper: 'I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits, whose names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter…'.



As Annie’s family grew Beatrix wrote letters to Noel’s younger brother and sisters, including stories of an ‘excessively impertinent’ squirrel called Nutkin and a disconsolate frog, Mr. Jeremy Fisher. In 1900 Annie suggested to Beatrix that the letters might contain ideas for several children’s books. Fortunately the children had kept all their letters carefully. Beatrix selected Noel’s story of Peter Rabbit for her first published book and copied the text and illustrations onto folded sheets of thin paper. The letter includes 17 illustrations, most of which were reworked for the published story. Beatrix also lenthened the story, adding new illustrations and details such as the famous rabbit pie and Peter hiding in the watering can and sneezing.



When the manuscript of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Mr. McGregor's Garden' was finished it contained one colour frontispiece and forty-two black and white illustrations. At first, the manuscript was rejected by publishers so Beatrix privately printed the book in an edition of 200 copies under the new title, The Tale of Peter Rabbit in December 1901, with a second edition of 250 copies in February 1902. By then Frederick Warne had agreed to publish the book and Beatrix reworked the story again, this time shortening the text and reducing the illustrations to thirty colour illustrations and a colour frontispiece. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in October 1902 in an edition of 8000 copies; by the end of the year a further 20,000 copies had been printed.



Beatrix claimed that the secret to the success of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was that it was written to a real child, not 'made to order'. This charmingly illustrated letter encapsulates something of the genius of Beatrix’s imagination. With a fresh and intimate narrative voice, she draws deeply from her lifelong passion for natural history to conjure a tale of fantasy rooted in reality. The subtle interplay of text and illustration controls pace, creates suspense, and reveals an elegant, very English irony that has come to characterize so much of her work.

Associated Objects
Bibliographic Reference
'L.Linder, A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter. London : Frederick Warne & Co, 1987 reprint'.pp.7-14Illustrated reproduction of letter preceded by notes on her letters to the Moore children.
Collection
Library Number
LOAN:PEARSON PLC.1-1991

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record createdMay 25, 2012
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