Rupert Potter (1832–1914)
Bertram Potter holding one of his paintings at Lingholm, Keswick, October 1901
Albumen print
V&A: Linder Bequest BP.1534
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Hi, my name is Philip Palmer, Robert H. Taylor curator and department head of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library and Museum. I'm the organizing curator for Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature.

Beatrix Potter was born into a family with roots in the North of England, a strong track record in business, and an abiding fascination with the arts. Her paternal grandfather Edmund Potter became rich running a successful Calico printing business in Derbyshire, yet was influenced by the radical labor perspectives of his wife, Jessy, and her family, the Cromptons of Lancashire. Potter made sure his fortune benefited the lives and education of his workers, for whom he built a library and reading room, as well as a school for their children (though it must be said that he was staunchly opposed to trade unions). He would later serve in Parliament and move to London, where he would become involved with cultural institutions such as the National Gallery of Art and the Kensington School of Art.

His second son Rupert, Beatrix’s father, did not go into the family business but instead studied law and became a London solicitor. He appreciated the arts and practiced drawing, but perhaps his greatest creative passion was photography. Many of the family portraits shown in this gallery were taken by Rupert, including the image of Beatrix’s brother Bertram holding one of his paintings.

Beatrix’s mother, Helen Leech Potter, also came from a North Country family, the Leeches of Manchester. Her father John Leech married into a wealthy cotton manufacturing family, and he and his wife Jane Ashton Leech lived in a stately mansion known as Gorse Hall. Their daughter Helen would later produce a watercolor of their home, shown nearby. Like the Potters, the Leeches also eventually moved to London, and it was there that Rupert and Helen met and married. They both owned works of art that graced the walls of their Kensington home, a townhouse located at 2 Bolton Gardens. Works by William Henry Hunt and Randolph Caldecott not only registered the aesthetic sensibilities of the family but gave Beatrix an early model for her artistic ambitions.