The tale of Beatrix Potter Appley Dapply watercolour

An unpublished original Beatrix Potter watercolour from the rhyme Appley Dapply, a little brown mouse, signed by the beloved children’s author, has emerged from a private collection in America and is being offered for sale by London-based leading rare book dealer Peter Harrington for £85,000.

Painted in 1891, a decade before publication of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, the watercolour demonstrates the exquisite detail of Potter’s naturalistic art – a skill set to be celebrated in a special exhibition at the V&A in February entitled Drawn to Nature.

“There are believed to be eight finished drawings for Appley Dapply created at different times by Beatrix Potter, who was in the habit of making several variations of illustrations to accompany her stories and rhymes,” says Dr. Philip W. Errington, senior book specialist at Peter Harrington, and a highly respected authority on children’s books within the rare book industry.

Beatrix Potter appears to have started work on a sequence of three illustrations for the rhyme in 1891. Anne Stevenson Hobbs, in her catalogue for the Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition, suggests that the designs were “apparently prepared for publication as greetings cards or, more plausibly, as a book”. Publication at the time was not realised.

Prior to publication of the book in 1917, Potter found that she had lost one of her original 1891 watercolours and therefore provided a new drawing. The present piece appears to be the hitherto missing drawing from the first sequence of three illustrations, created at the very height of her significant talent in 1891.

“The appearance of the mouse is almost identical between this watercolour and the illustration published in the volume of Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes. The key difference is, in the present piece, Appley Dapply clutches a key by a closed cupboard door and in the illustration published in 1917, the mouse is reaching for a plate in the open cupboard,” adds Dr. Errington.

A version of the drawing of Appley Dapply reaching for the plate in the cupboard, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co Ltd., can be seen on some of the promotional material for the upcoming V&A exhibition.