“Nana” from J. M Barrie’s “Peter Pan”

Sunday, March 15, 2015 by


J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is familiar to millions, however he originated as a character rather than a book, film or play. Sir James Matthew Barrie, Scottish novelist and playwright, (1860 – 1937) was a complex man whose life, work and psychology have been much studied and written about. A good deal of interesting material about him is readily available online.

Barrie had a troubled childhood, exacerbated by his small stature (he was only 5’ 3” as an adult) and the tragic death of a favoured younger brother in an accident. In brief, Barrie was torn all his life between never wanting to grow up at all, something he was well aware of himself - he is on record as stating that life after the age of 12 is pretty well downhill all the way - and desperately wanting children of his own. His marriage was childless and ended in divorce. He moved to London in 1885.

It is well known that Barrie formed a close relationship between Sylvia Llewellyn Davies and her five sons, even though both were, of course, married to other people. He first met the family when walking his first dog, the St. Bernard Porthos, in Kensington Gardens, London. He rapidly became devoted to the boys. He formally adopted them after the deaths of both their parents, and remained an active parent to them in their adult lives.

Barrie became a frequent companion to Sylvia though he also maintained what must have been a somewhat strained relationship with her husband Arthur. In 1901 he invited the whole family to the Barries’ country cottage and produced an album of photographs showing the boys enacting a pirate adventure he had devised for them. Barrie made only two copies, one of which he gave to Arthur. Arthur managed to mislay his copy on a train.

The character of Peter Pan first appeared in Barrie’s novel “The Little White Bird” (Adventures in Kensington Gardens) in 1902. It was serialized later that year in an American magazine. He invented the character originally to entertain two of the Llewellyn Davies children.

In 1904 Barrie produced the play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up”, and in 1911 it was developed by Barrie into his novel “Peter and Wendy”. However, Hodder and Stoughton, Barrie’s publishers, extracted parts of “The Little White Bird” and published them as “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” in 1906, with illustrations by the celebrated illustrator Arthur Rackham.

The famous and much-loved bronze statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was in fact commissioned by Barrie himself, in 1912, as a gift to the children of London. Seven were cast and the other six are situated in Belgium, the USA, Canada and Australia.

In 1929 Barrie gave the copyright to the Peter Pan works to the Great Ormond St. Hospital for Sick Children, with the proviso that the income received must never be disclosed. The Hospital still receives royalties from new productions derived from the copyrighted works. Newer versions often refer to the book merely as “Peter Pan”.

  • The excellent website http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26654/26654-h/26654-h.htm. (see note at the end of the article) reproduces in full the version of
  • “Peter Pan” retold in 1912 by Daniel O’Connor, with illustrations by Alice B Woodward,
  • “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” with the Rackham illustrations,
  • “Peter Pan” 1911 with illustrations by Francis Bedford (which first appeared in 1915 in a school edition of “Peter Pan and Wendy”) and
  • “The Peter Pan Alphabet” 1907, with illustrations by Oliver Herford.
    All these can be read for free, and downloaded.



Courier_1504_Deirdre_BarrieLuathNana is the loyal and patient dog in the Darling household who acts as the children’s often long-suffering nurse. In book illustrations, film and theatre and other adaptations of “Peter Pan” Nana is often portrayed as a St. Bernard. In fact, Nana was modelled on Barrie’s own dog at the time he wrote the “Peter Pan” play, Luath – a black and white Landseer Newfoundland named after a dog in a Landseer painting, and the costume for the human actor who originally played “Nana” faithfully reproduced Luath’s own markings. Here is the best known photo of Barrie with Luath.

Nana is actually described by Barrie in “Peter and Wendy” as “a prim Newfoundland” so there is really no excuse for illustrators to portray her as a St. Bernard even allowing for some confusion in publishers’ minds concerning the existence of Barrie’s earlier dog, the St. Bernard Porthos.

Nana is not the Darling family’s pet dog – she is formally engaged as a nurse to the children; because the family is poor (though patently very middle-class) they cannot afford a human nurse. Nana is a child-loving dog, and the family discover her in Kensington Gardens where she irritates nursemaids out with their charges by peering into prams to look at the babies, and occasionally following them home and complaining about their care of them. Nana is described as a “treasure”, being especially thorough about bath times. Barrie would have known, of course, the Newfoundland’s origins as a water dog. She is a fussy, old-fashioned and interfering kind of nurse who accompanies the children to their school and who pushes them back into line when out walking if they stray. She carries an umbrella in her mouth in case of rain.

Nana is fully described in one paragraph at the beginning of “Peter Pan and Wendy” and makes detailed appearances in the following two chapters, when she chases Peter Pan (who has appeared at the window) and returns with his shadow in her mouth. She hangs it out of the window, sure that the strange boy will return for it, but Mrs. Darling brings it in and rolls it up, fearing that it will look like washing and therefore “lower the whole tone of the house”.

Nana gives little Michael a bath against his wishes and also drinks some unpleasant medicine that Mr. Darling does not want, and which he pours into her bowl telling her that he has given her a nice drink of milk. Nana drinks it but gives Mr. Darling a reproving glance “showing him the great red tear that makes us so sorry for noble dogs” – an example, almost certainly, of the fact that ectropion, or prominent third eyelids, are not just a modern phenomenon in Newfoundlands.

Mr. Darling drags her outside and ties her up in the yard, cross that she has so much influence in the nursery. Her inability to guard the children enables them to fly away with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell later that evening whilst the Darling parents are out at a party. Nana does eventually break her chain, knowing that the children are in danger, and rushes to their hosts’ home to warn them that they must return, which they do immediately. However they are all too late and the children are gone.

Nana does not appear in the book again until the Darling children return at the end and Nana “rushes in” to greet them.


Illustrations of Nana

It is not surprising that illustrations of Nana the dog are rarely prominent in versions of Peter Pan; not only does she only feature at the start of the children’s adventures but the adventures themselves give much more scope for the art of the illustrator, as well as being so much more interesting to child readers – the flying Peter Pan himself, Tinkerbell, pirates, a fearsome crocodile, the evil Captain Hook, Neverland, the band of lost boys and Redskins.

I am will start by mentioning some beautiful illustrations which can be seen at the Flickr website and can be downloaded, for a fee which goes to the Great Ormond St. Hospital (GOSH) charity. The entire Peter Pan collection can be seen at


The first books I am going to discuss all have illustrations which can be found on the Flickr site, and browsing through GOSH’s Peter Pan collection is a delight in itself. I have indicated, where applicable, illustrations that are not displayed in this article because I have only been able to find them in the GOSH collection.


Prominent must be the lovely collection of magic lantern slides, made around 1910, containing three images of Nana who is correctly painted as a Landseer, although her markings are not Luath’s. Magic lantern slides were invented in the 16th century and have a fascinating history. To the best of my knowledge the magic lantern images can only be seen on the Flickr site and anyone wanting to start a collection of “Nana” image is highly recommended to start here by looking at the whole sequence on Flickr, and paying for the downloads if required. They are beautifully painted and coloured and have the luminosity that can only be obtained through back-lighting. Unusually only one image containing Nana comes from the opening of the book, where she is seen giving a ride to Mr. Darling and two of the boys – the other two concern the children’s eventual safe return home, which is often ignored by book illustrators.


“The Littlest Ones Peter Pan and Wendy” was published in 1930 and illustrated by Kathleen Atkins. A colour plate illustrates Nana out for a walk with the three children Wendy, John and Michael and, charmingly, Nana is wearing a nursemaid’s cap and carrying a pair of stout boots in her mouth. There is also an engraving of Nana barking to alert the family to danger. I can find out nothing about this artist but these two delightful illustrations can be seen at the GOSH Flickr site, they are not reproduced here as I can find them nowhere else.


Courier_1504_Deirdre_PorthosRackhamThe Arthur Rackham illustrations illustrate the 1906 “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens” and not the later novel. This book is entirely different from the “Peter and Wendy” story and describes, as the title indicates, Peter’s own adventures in the Gardens. Hence, Nana does not appear at all in Rackham’s illustrations, she belongs to the play and the later novel of 1911. But Barrie refers several times in “Kensington Gardens” to his St Bernard Porthos and the small, beautiful engraving of Porthos framed by sinuous branches, by Rackham, is included here for interest.



Courier_1504_Deirdre_Bedford3Francis Donkin Bedford (1864 -1954) (see note at end of article) illustrated the first 1911 “Peter and Wendy” with black and white engravings, two of which feature Nana – she is on the cover with the children, and is later shown in a back view howling with distress as she looks out of the window next to the despairing Darling parents. Nana is not drawn particularly well and the illustrations themselves perhaps do not show Bedford’s work at his best, although as is common with first illustrated editions they have become strongly associated with the Peter Pan story, and many people love them. In his long life Bedford, who trained and worked as an architect, produced many fine illustrations for children’s books and many of these, particularly of nursery rhymes, can be found online.


Flora White (1878 – 1953) ’s illustrations for “Peter Pan’s ABC” published in 1913 has one plate showing an accurate Nana bathing a surprisingly docile Michael and sponging his head. There is a Flora White page on Pinterest in which you can see a range of her cards and postcards depicting large-headed cute small children. But she used a variety of styles in her work and was a versatile illustrator. (Pinterest also has an interesting page on Nana costumes).


Apart from Rackham, probably the best known illustrator in the Great Ormond St collection is Mabel Lucie Attwell (1879 – 1964), whose “Peter Pan and Wendy” of 1920 contains two lovely, simple, engravings of Nana. One shows her being escorted outside to the yard with a tear dropping from her eye, (not shown here), and the other with nursemaid’s cap on her head, towel in her mouth and Michael on her back stating “I won’t go to bed!” In this illustration, Nana looks harassed but patient. This was an abridged version judged by Barrie to be especially suitable for very young children.

Mabel Lucie Attwell was a prolific magazine, book and card illustrator particularly of babyish, sentimental children, many of which were based on her own daughter. In 1921 J M Barrie asked her to illustrate a gift book edition of “Peter Pan” but this contains no images of Nana.


Dean’s books produced a cut-out Peter Pan book in the 1930s with lovely cut-outs, although the sole representation of Nana shows a red St Bernard with white blaze and socks, and towel in her mouth. This is another illustration that can be viewed at Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/24671749@N07/collections/72157623501583109/



Gwynedd M Hudson (1909 – 1935)’s wonderful illustrations to a 1931 “Peter and Wendy” are amongst my own favourites. There are three – Nana with Michael at bath time, (illustrated here), Nana and the family playing together and Nana howling in the nursery with the Darlings slumped in their chairs. You can view the last two at Flickr. Ms Hudson was a superb artist with a distinctive style and a most assured line – her “Alice in Wonderland” is famous, and one of the very best versions of the book. As she died so young there is not all that much of her work to be seen; she did poster work for the London Underground and not much is known about her, but she probably illustrated less than ten books in all. These are certainly her two best known books.


The Nursery Peter Pan was published in the 1940s with illustrations by Jeanne Farrar. The fresh-faced children in the one colour painting featuring Nana are walking to school, Nana duly carries an umbrella and wears a large white bow around her neck. In a later engraving she is sorrowfully chained to her kennel. It is rather a puzzle that Nana is depicted as an Old English Sheepdog rather than a Newfoundland, and apparently with a long tail (in the engraving) although this is definitely not a Bearded Collie. Jeanne Farrar illustrated many early Enid Blyton books as well as the Ladybird series, and it is clear that she was a well-regarded and prolific commercial illustrator but I can find nothing at all about her, not even her dates. See them at Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/24671749@N07/collections/72157623501583109/


A E Kennedy is the artist to whom the next book is attributed by GOSH but he is not credited. However, the illustrations are almost certainly his. Kennedy is another very well-known name, his book illustrations are much admired. He illustrated, generously, a juvenile edition of “Peter Pan and Wendy” in 1951. This artist was working pre WWI and into the 1960s and it is astonishing that I can find out nothing about him, not even his full name. An excellent painter of dogs and other animals, (terriers feature prominently in his work), and probably every young English child from the 1930s – 50s had at least one of his books featuring cats, dogs, woodland or farmyard animals. If you search for images of his work you will find that his WWI and pre-War paintings are more fluid and less saturated with colour – he was, presumably, quite young then and yet to fix his commercial style which, after the 1920s, became highly recognizable.

In Kennedy’s book, Nana is a red and white St. Bernard with heavy, straight bone and beautiful feet– very much like all the other doleful St. Bernards he drew. There are five paintings - to school with an umbrella, bath-time for Michael, feeding Michael a spoonful of medicine, a dramatic and rather moving one of Nana barking out in the yard, and – for the end of the book – Nana looking up as the children arrive back home through the window. The last image of Nana looks rather hastily executed. That one is featured here, as is the bath-time painting.


This ends our exploration of the images available from the GOSH collection on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/24671749@N07/collections/72157623501583109/



Courier_1504_Deirdre_Alice B Woodward Peter Pan
Turning to the images of Nana you can find at the Gutenberg website, our first artist of two is Alice B. Woodward. Alice Bolingbroke Woodward (1862 – 1951) (see note at end of article) was a highly accomplished artist who specialized in children’s books and scientific illustration. She lived a very long life and illustrated at least three Peter Pan books, the last one I have found images of dates to 1949. Her two clear-cut, beautifully drawn black and white depictions of Nana are amongst the best you will find. One is a simple but most assured drawing of a tired Nana stretching and yawning, the other is a more detailed plate of a beautifully drawn Nana with Wendy in the nursery; one of the boys lies asleep in bed and Peter Pan appears at the window outlined against a starry sky – at present, unseen by any of the other three participants in the picture. A delightful nursery frieze of frolicking lambs features above the bed. This coloured plate shows a patient, resigned, Nana with naughty Michael on her back. The Pinterest page on Alice Woodward shows a representative selection of her beautiful illustrative work, she is another artist who illustrated a memorable “Alice”.

The second is Oliver Herford (1863 – 1935), an American writer, poet, humourist and illustrator, though born in England. Information about him is difficult to find but he was a quirky and funny artist. This Nana from his “Peter Pan Alphabet” of 1907 does not show his best work, but she looks unusually jolly and free of nursery cares.

“The Graphic” illustrated newspaper featured a selection of lightning sketches following the opening night of the “Peter Pan” play in 1904 and some-one has managed to find a copy of it which can be seen on the internet. “Graphic” and other illustrated newspaper pages can often be found at ephemera fairs; I used to spend hours browsing through them myself. In the top left hand corner you can see the human impersonator of Nana with Michael on her back - impressively dog-like, indeed Newfoundland-like. Generous artistic licence probably comes into play here.

This cut-out postcard was produced around 1910 and was one of a series of postcards intended for cutting and stringing together to form a paper puppet. The artist was W E Mack. I have seen two others from this “Peter Pan” series, both very well drawn. But such things were still found during my own early childhood in the 1950s – I clearly remember finding the end results very disappointing and short-lived! Nana here is delightful, a well-depicted Landseer Newfoundland, albeit with grey markings, carrying a red towel.

Some readers may remember this painting of Nana from an article on the work of the Grahame Johnstone sisters, Anne and Janet – no apologies for including it again here as it is a wonderful illustration from their “Peter Pan” book, of Nana and Michael at bathtime. Nana skilfully carries sponge, hairbrush and towel in her mouth and wears a nursemaid’s cap. As always with the GJ sisters’ dogs this Newfoundland is beautifully drawn and observed with a noble and kindly head, and shows markings closely approximating Luath’s own.

Moving on to more recent interpretations of Nana in “Peter Pan” books, readers who are interested in the subject need to delve into the huge range of material themselves, as there is so much of it. Scott Gustafson and Sebastion Gicobino are amongst the best.

Renae DeLiz is a contemporary graphic novel illustrator, and in my view her depiction of Nana – a modern, beautifully drawn Landseer Newfoundland depicted in various aspects of her role as a nurse, represents the finest and most imaginative interpretation of Nana from her inception in 1904 up to the present day. Nana has never been better nor more sympathetically drawn – and generously, in this Nana-specific plate.

Note Nana’ s beautiful fringed shawl, and the dutiful way in which she is sponging the head of one of her charges during the night. And these are not the only deft touches made by Ms DeLiz – she shows Nana offering a crying baby its feeding bottle in Kensington Gardens, watched by a cross nanny, and a marvellous frame depicts Nana in the nursemaids’ room at school, in which she is ostracised by the human maids but holds herself aloof from their chatter. My favourite, however, is the scene showing the back view of Nana – without any apparent home, owner nor specific role in life – gazing at prams and their children whilst Mrs. Darling eyes her thoughtfully from the right hand edge of the frame. Renae DeLiz’s illustrations for “Peter Pan” and information on how to buy your copy can be found on http://www.renaedeliz.com


I end this article by returning to GOSH and the legacy of J M Barrie. This information comes from a detailed article by the dog antiques expert Nick Waters, writing about the Peter Pan League Collecting Box in the UK magazine “Dog World”. The article can be read at


The League was set up in the year that Barrie gave copyright of his Peter Pan books and play to GOSH, and was aimed at children between 7 and 14 years. This is a specially produced donation box showing Nana carrying a towel and wearing a nursemaid’s cap; it was intended to be used at fundraising events. The League was discontinued in 1948.
Courier_1504_Deirdre_collectingboxThe collecting box appears to be made of painted spelter or tin, and accurately reproduces Luath’s markings. I have never seen one on the secondary market, and I have been told by GOSH that the Hospital does not even have an original collecting box in its own archives. This is a great pity as doubtless any reproductions of the box would be extremely popular, and would benefit the Charity greatly if available to a modern public. I bear in mind the fact that the UK Kennel Club regularly hold exhibitions of specialist art work concerning specific breeds, and none has been more popular with the visiting public than that which featured the Newfoundland. This exhibition featured many items kindly loaned to the Kennel Club by GOSH.


(note about copyright: both Alice Woodward and F D Bedford are still in copyright in the UK and the rest of Europe at the time of writing this article. They are in the public domain in the US and elsewhere. Gutenberg may overlook non-USA territories’ copyright entitlements)

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1 Comment

  1. Sharon Damkaer

    Thanks so much for this detailed and informative history of Nana. Love it!
    Sharon Damkaer

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