POTTER, BEATRIX The Owl and the Pussy Cat. An autograph picture letter signed.
[N.p.:] 6 March 1897. An 8-page illustrated picture letter in ink, with 8 original drawings (2 full page, 3 half-page, and 3 quarter-page), a prefatory note addressed to "My dear Molly" and signed "your affectionate cousin B", followed by six stanzas of the story (after the poem by Edward Lear). Two folded sheets with a single stitch, 7 x 4 1/2 inches (18 x 11.5 cm); with frame. Light spotting to the first and last leaves, a few minor spots within, very well preserved overall.
Provenance: Sotheby's London, 19 June 1986, lot 716, purchased by Justin G. Schiller, Ltd. on behalf of Mary K. Young
Exhibited: Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2 November 2012-27 January 2013; Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit: A Centenary Celebration from the Collection of Grolier Club Members, The Grolier Club, New York, 14 November 2001-11 January 2002
Beatrix Potter was gifted a copy of Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs, which included his The Owl and the Pussy Cat, when she was four-and-a-half years old. By many accounts, Potter had a sheltered childhood without many close friends her age, but her parents did allow a menagerie of rabbits, pet mice and many other creatures within their home. Potter's pets became the subject not only her early watercolors and Christmas cards, but from at least 1892 the subject of charmingly illustrated letters to children known now as the Picture Letters. The most beloved of Potter's Picture Letters was sent in September 1893 to Noel Moore, son of her childhood governess, telling "the story of four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter." In 1901 this work was first privately published by Potter as The Tale of Peter Rabbit, but before the turn of the century Potter had no intention of publishing these ephemeral works, intended as a simple and affectionate way to communicate with children. Published by Warne in 1903 (who also currently retain the original manuscript) Peter Rabbit is one of the most enduring children's books ever produced.
The current Picture Letter depicting Lear's The Owl and the Pussy Cart was sent to Potter's young cousin Molly Gaddum in March 1897 and is prefaced by a short note to her: "I have drawn you some pictures of the owl and the pussy-cat. It is very odd to see an owl with hands, but how could he play the guitar without them?" Potter continues illustrating the story with a very fine full-page drawing depicting the owl, guitar in hand, at sea with the pussy cat accompanied by a honey pot and "plenty of money wrapped up in a £5 note" followed by a drawing of the pig that provides a ring, the owl purchasing it for one shilling, and ends with a drawing of the pair headed to be married by the turkey on the hill. A few weeks earlier in February 1897 Potter also sent an illustrated letter depicting The Owl and the Pussy Cat to Noel Moore and the two letters were paired together in the 2012-13 Morgan Library exhibition Beatrix Potter: The Picture Letters (that letter also sold Christie's Australia, 6 December 1994, lot 198). Potter's picture letters written between 1890 and the publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901 are scarce and prized by collectors and institutions. They are infrequently offered at auction, the most recent being an 1893 picture letter to Eric Moore (sold Sotheby's, 7 May 1998, lot 139) and we note a collection featuring several picture letters (including one sent to Molly Gaddum) sold at Woolley & Wallis, 28 June 1994.
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C The Mary K. Young Collection
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