Children's spontaneity 'wiped out by teaching' says Beatrix Potter letter for sale

Two letters written by Beatrix Potter just before the Second World War to the sculptress Josefina de Vasconcellos form part of an archive of papers being auctioned at Bonhams Printed Books, Maps and Manuscripts sale in London on November 23.

The letters (estimated at £4,000-8,000) provide a fascinating insight into the famous author's no nonsense approach to life giving her views on topics as diverse as the deadening effect of the education system on children's spontaneity, to the decline of the "old strong honestly made handcrafts".   

Referring to a child's sketch she had received, she writes, "That was a charming letter, with the naive plan of a child's garden; a garden very suitable for Benjamin Bunny.  It's curious how graphic children can be, up to a certain age, and then they lose it, or it is wiped out by teaching.

"A shepherd's child about 5 years old showed me a remarkable crayon scribble of two lambs - remarkable capering lambs kicking up the heels. I asked for another specimen. Now six months later she gives me a 'picture' done at school...

"[It's] outline [was] traced from an elaborate scene in Kate Greenaway style, little boy and girl, cottage etc all carefully coloured; and consigned to the fire by me."

Her opinions on the decline of rural handicrafts are equally forthright. She writes: "Labour-saving and laziness are nearly allied..... there are still a few good wheelwrights left, but I observe with disgust the increasing use of rubber motor tyres on carts and wheel barrows.

"They offer some advantages, but no one can call them lovely on a farm horse-drawn cart."

After the start of the war, Potter's tone becomes darker. In November 1939 she writes, "...It has been a most lovely autumn for those who had leisure to enjoy the beauty of the peaceful valleys and fells... It's not a cheerful time.

"A most peculiar war; for those of us who lived through the last one, it seems different; 'bad to reckon up' as the saying is. And everything in a muddle. There is no use thinking, keep working."

The recipient of the letters, Vasconcellos, was the world's oldest living sculptor at time of her death in 2005 aged 100. She is best known for her haunting sculpture, Reconciliation, casts of which are in Coventry Cathedral, Hiroshima, Stormont Castle and at the Berlin Wall memorial.

The archive also includes works by her husband, the painter Delmar Banner, whose portrait of Beatrix Potter is in the National Portrait Gallery. 


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