Victorian Taxidermy Artist Walter Potter’s Major Works Reassembled in London

A preface for the unfamiliar, potentially aghast reader: the English Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter was, according to all accounts, a gentle and kindhearted man. (Read more about him here, and here.) All the animals Potter used in his work were said to have died of natural causes. Apparently, he never harmed any creature presented in his displays. Rather, he arranged to take carcasses off the hands of a local farm and veterinarian. Additionally, as his reputation grew, the community he lived in began to donate expired critters.

Bride from “Kitten’s Wedding”

Today, many perceive his elaborate anthropomorphic dioramas –featuring various dead animals: kittens, puppies, rabbits, ducks, squirrels, frogs, etc, imitating domestic human life– as grotesque, but bear in mind that at the time they were made, and for many decades following, the creatures in Potter’s vast collection were well-admired as an elegant source of “Victorian whimsy”.

Long after Potter’s death, crowds still came to view his thousands of creatures at the Potter Museum in Bramber, Sussex, England. (Then, later, at Cornwall’s Jamaica Inn.) However, sensibilities change.  By the end of the 20th century, fewer and fewer devotees were making the pilgrimage to see Potter’s body of, well, bodies. The vast collection was finally dismantled and sold off in bits and pieces in 2003, to a wide array of buyers, for roughly £500,000.

“Rabbit and Hen”

“It caused outrage when John and Wendy Watts split up and sold the historic dioramas. […] Artist Damien Hirst, a huge fan of Walter Potter’s work, said he would have paid £1 million to keep the collection together.” Now, eight years later, many of the pieces have been reassembled in an exhibition at the Museum of Everything in Primrose Hill, London. Co-curators James Brett and Peter Blake did their best to retrieve as many of the dioramas back on loan as they could. Opening today, the gallery showing includes several of Potter’s most famous pieces: “The Death of Cock Robin,” The House that Jack Built”, and “Happy Families”.

“A Friend In Need”

Unsqueamish Coilhouse readers in the UK/Europe, don’t miss this rare opportunity to see Potter’s fascinating work in person! (It runs through December.) Please be sure to report back. Several more images after the jump.

“Rabbits’ Village School”

12 Responses to “Victorian Taxidermy Artist Walter Potter’s Major Works Reassembled in London”

  1. tjewell Says:

    That last one makes me think of the juror’s box from Alice in Wonderland.

  2. Christine Says:

    Considering the recent renewed popularity for taxidermy in alternative fashion I think this will be a big hit today! But man those dead kitties look too cute to be so long dead…:(

  3. James Reffell Says:

    Saw these as a kid when visiting family in Cornwall, and then again in the 2000s (I guess before the collection was broken up). Creeeeepy.

  4. Salina Says:

    I’m glad that all of the animals were said to have died of natural causes. I’ve seen his work before (though at the time I didn’t know who was behind it), and even though I think they’re amazing in really charming and macabre ways, I was still a bit neutral about his work because, even though I am fascinated by taxidermy, I don’t really like the idea of animals being killed for art or decor.

  5. Zoetica Says:

    Oh my goodness, that’s great news. I’ve always loved the mice, especially. Wish I could make it to the show!

  6. Jessica Says:

    Gawd I wish I could see this show!!! Wonderful post Mer! :) I’d always assumed that Potter had killed at least some of the animals in his pieces…SO happy to hear that was not the case! Phew!!!

  7. desiringmachine Says:

    ‘Rabbit & Hen’ reminds me of a little book I received as a child, I think it was called ‘Four Little Kittens’? told the story of a little kitten family…I thought it was adorable when I was little, then later some killjoy pointed out to me that photography at the time was so time consuming that there was *no way* those kittens were holding still that long and they had likely been strangled, then dressed and posed. I consoled myself by arguing that maybe they were just drugged, not dead…but if they died of natural or other causes I guess that is a better option.

  8. Ali Says:

    As an animal lover, I was so pleased to hear that all animals passed at their own time. That being said, I think it is sort of a beautiful rememberance of their lives. The artwork itself is wonderful. I wonder how many of our famous Victorian authors fairytales were rooted in hiswork? I think of Beatrice Potter everytime I see one of his bunnys. Love it!

  9. stella Says:

    When you see them you think they are alive but then you realise it is stuffed. they are amazing and beautiful but I would have to admit I wouldn’t want to bet them!

  10. Io Says:

    As an animal lover (admitted cat freak) and as someone who knows the horrifying glut of dead animals that can be obtained from vets/streets/shelters (and am thus inclined to believe none were killed for this man’s art), I find this charming and sweet — giving them new life, in a sense.

  11. Victorian Whimsy | Rotating Corpse Says:

    […] Advocates of his work are quick to reassure us that all the animals used in his dioramas died of natural causes, but who knows. Blogs that feature Walter Potter’s anthropomorphic taxidermy displays of […]

  12. Steampunk Jewelry Maker Says:

    Kitten’s Wedding is the kind of thing which makes me wake in a cold sweat. I don’t think I can ever forget this image :)
    I think Rabbit and Hen would make a fantastic kids book…