Beatrix Potter: 1866-1943

peter_rabbit_first_edition_1902-beatrix-potterBorn on July 28, 1866  in South Kensington in London, England,  Beatrix Potter is best known for her  illustrated children’s books. She was an author, illustrator, mycologist, farmer, and conservationist. Potter came from a  wealthy family and although her father was a barrister, he devoted much of his time to his passions of art and photography. He and Beatrix’s mother Helen were socially active associating with many writers, artists, and politicians.

Potter had a lonely childhood and was educated at home by a governess. By the age of eight, she was filling sketchbooks with drawings of animals and plants and her artistic endeavors were encouraged, especially by her father.

In her teens, Potter spent most of her time studying, and painting and sketching. “Although she got her Art Student’s Certificate for drawing, Beatrix reached the age of 21 having had little real education. Like many adult daughters of the rich, she was appointed ‘household supervisor’ – a role that left her with enough time to indulge her interest in the natural sciences.”

In her 20s, Potter developed into a talented naturalist, made studies of plants and animals at the Cromwell Road museums, and learned how to draw with her eye to a microscope. She began to focus more on drawing and painting and began to earn a small income from her illustrations.  She had also begun to write illustrated letters to the children of her former governess, Annie Moore. Peter Rabbit was born in a letter she wrote in September 1893 to Annie’s son, Noel.

Six publishers rejected “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” before Potter decided to publish her own edition of the story. Having seen the edition, publisher Frederick Warne decided to publish Peter Rabbit, and within a year had already had to produce six editions to meet demand. “This success marked the start of a life-long relationship between Beatrix and Warne who proposed marriage in 1905. ” Although she accepted him – defying her parents, who saw that being ‘trade’, a publisher was an unthinkable match for their daughter – Norman unexpectedly died less than a month later of a blood disorder.”

Potter continued writing and produced one or two new books each year for the next eight years. In 1909 she met and then befriended a local solicitor, William Heelis. After a period of having to battle her parents’ objections to her relationship Beatrix married William in 1913.

After her marriage, Potter dedicated herself to the role of lady farmer and became an expert in breeding Herdwick sheep. From 1920, and due to failing eyesight, Potter did  less and less creative work and her books had to be pieced together from sketches and drawings done years earlier. Her last major work, “The Tale of Little Pig Robinson”, was published in 1930.

In the final part of her life, Potter concentrated on her other passion – conservation which was inspired by her friendship with Canon Rawnsley, one of the founder members of the National Trust. “Her expanding estate, funded by revenue from book sales, gave her the opportunity to fulfil an ambition to preserve not only part of the Lake District’s unique landscape but the area’s traditional farming methods.”

Beatrix Potter died on December 22, 1943.  She left 14 farms and over 4,000 acres to the National Trust, land that it still owns and protects against development today.

She wrote and illustrated a total of 28 books, including the 23 Tales, the ‘little books’ that have been translated into more than 35 languages and sold over 100 million copies.  Her stories have been retold in various formats including a ballet, films, and in animation.

Sources: V&A MuseumBibliOdyssey

paintings: art paintings, portrait paintings and oil painting

Alphonse Mucha: 1860-1939

Les Saisons - Alsphonse Mucha

Alphonse Maria Mucha was born on July 24, 1860 in Ivančice, Moravia (now Czech Republic) and is known for his prominent role in shaping French Art Nouveau.  Mucha loved art as a child but studied on a choral scholarship at the Church of St Peter in Brno, the capital of Moravia.  In 1875, Mucha returned to Ivančice where he worked as a court clerk.

After his rejection from the Prague Academy of Fine Arts in 1878, Mucha traveled to Vienna to work as a scene painter for the firm of Kautsky-Brioschi-Burghardt.  In 1881, he left Vienna and moved to Mikulov (Czech Republic) where he paintied portraits. It was there that he met Count Khuen Belasi who commissioned him to decorate his castle at Emmahof and where the Count’s brother became his patron, enabling him to study at the Munich Academy of Art in 1885 and at the Acadamie Julian and the Academie Colarossi in Paris from 1887 to 1889.

Between 1890 and 1896, Mucha lived in a studio above Madame Charlotte’s cremerie and began illustrating for the theatre magazine “Le Costume au Theatre”. He met Paul Gauguin (who later shared his studio), and also began working for publisher Armand Colin.  In 1894, Mucha designed a poster for actress Sarah Bernhardt for the play “Gismonda” which led to a five year contract to create more posters and stage and costume designs for her as well as designs for magazines, book covers, jewellery and furniture for others.

Mucha’s illustrations are characterized by their mosaic backgrounds and influenced by Byzantine art. In contrast with poster makers of the time, he used paler pastel colours. His romantic female figures wear garments that are decorated with precious gems and are often flamboyantly posed and surrounded by lush flowers.

Mucha moved to a new studio in 1896 at rue du Val-de-Grace and his decorative panels “Les Saisons” were published by the Champenois firm, who he would sign an exclusive contract with around 1897.  Between 1897 and 1899, he had several solo exhibitions including shows at the Bodiniere Gallery and the Salon des Cent, in Paris, the Topic Gallery in Prague. As well, Mucha participated in the first exhibition of the Vienna Secession.

From 1904 – 1910 Mucha traveled and lived in America visiting New York, Boston, Chicago, and Philidelphia.  While there, he painted society portraits and met Charles Crane, who would later sponsor his work on the Slav Epic project. From 1905 – 1907, he worked on commissions and taught at art schools in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.  In June 1906, he married Maruška Chytilová (a former art student in Prague), with whom he had daughter Jaroslava, and  son Jiri.

Mucha, Maruška, and their daughter returned to Prague in 1910 where he would spend the next 18 years working on his Slav Epic project – a series of twenty paintings depicting the history of the Slav people.  In 1928, the completed series was officially presented to the Czech people and the City of Prague and was shown at the city’s Trade Fair Palace.  In 1931, Mucha was commissioned to design a stained glass window for the St. Vitus Cathedral, in Prague, donated by the Slavia Bank.

With the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, Mucha was one of the first to be arrested by the Gestapo.  He was questioned and eventually released, but, having suffered from pneumonia in the Autumn of 1938, his health was weakened by the ordeal.  Alphonse Mucha died on July 14, 1939 and is buried at Vysehrad cemetery.  Over 100,000 Czechs attended the funeral despite the Nazi ban.

gismonda mucha_moet-and-chandon the-emerald1900mucha

the_apotheosis_of_the_slavs la-nature-mucha Gold Plated Bracelet - Alphonse Mucha

Sources: Mucha Foundation, Mucha Museum, Wikipedia

paintings: art paintings, portrait paintings and oil painting