Flower Fairies Official Website based on the books and illustrations of Cicely Mary Barker
Grown Ups
 


About Flower Fairies

Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies books, published in the first half of last century, are known and loved around the world.

They were created by a quiet, unassuming and dedicated artist, who was nevertheless remarkably successful, spending her life illustrating many children’s books and selling hundreds of watercolours and pastels.

Today, almost thirty years after her death, her work continues to offer delights that have stood the test of time.

Cicely Mary Barker
 

The Author

Cicely Mary Barker was born in West Croydon, Surrey, on 28 June 1895. All her life she was physically frail and as a child suffered from epilepsy. Apart from bouts of illness, Cicely’s childhood was happy and secure. The Barker’s were deeply religious and Cicely herself was a devout Christian who used art to express her spiritual beliefs. It was Cicely’s father, an accomplished artist himself, who encouraged her artistic talent, enrolling her at Croydon Art Society when she was thirteen years old and paying for a correspondence course in art which she continued until 1919.

She was only sixteen when she had her first work accepted for publication as a set of postcards, and from that time she devoted her career to painting.


She was greatly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and believed, as they did, in “truth to nature”. In creating her Flower Fairies books, she painted from life whenever she could, sometimes enlisting the help of staff at Kew Gardens in finding and identifying plant specimens. The Fairies too were painted from life, modelled on the children who attended her sister’s nursery school. When the paintings were complete, she wrote the accompanying poems.

The first of the Flower Fairies books, Flower Fairies of the Spring, was published in 1923, and was well received by the war-weary public, who were fascinated by fairies and charmed by her vision of innocence. In the foreword to Flower Fairies of the Wayside, the seventh book in the series, Cicely wrote:

“So let me say quite plainly, that I have drawn all the plants and flowers very carefully, from real ones; and everything that I have said about them is true as I could make it. But I have never seen a fairy; the fairies and all about them are just ‘pretend’.”

This unique blend of accuracy and fantasy had by then established a popularity for the Flower Fairies books which endures to this day.

Cicely and sister Dorothy c.1897
Cicely and sister Dorothy c.1897

Early Life

1895
Cicely Mary Barker was born in 1895 in Croydon, a town near London, England. She suffered from epilepsy as a child and remained physically delicate for most of her life.

She was unable to go to school, so she was educated at home and spent much of her time on her own, reading and drawing.


1908
In 1908, when Cicely was 13, her father enrolled her at Croydon Art Society, where they both exhibited work. She also enrolled in a Correspondence Art course which she continued until 1918.

At 16, Cicely was elected a life member of Croydon Art Society, the youngest person ever to receive this honour.

The art critic for the Croydon advertiser commented: "Her drawings show a remarkable freedom of spirit. She has distinct promise."

Cicely Mary Barker c.1920
Cicely Mary Barker c.1920

1911
In 1911, when she was 15 her father submitted some of her work to Raphael Tuck, the stationery printer, who bought four of her pictures for greeting cards. From this time onwards, she was able to sell her work to magazines, to postcard and greeting card manufacturers, and later to book publishers. This was very helpful to the family finances for her father died when she was 17, leaving Cicely, her elder sister and her mother in difficult circumstances. Cicely was industrious and determined.


Postcard - Children of the Allies
Postcard - Children of the Allies
Cicely as a young woman
Cicely as a young woman
1923
She sent her flower fairy paintings to several publishers before Blackie accepted them for publication in 1923. She was paid only £25 for a total of twenty-four illustrations and verses in Flower Fairies of the Spring, the first of the Flower Fairy series.

Seven more little books about Fairies were to follow.

Cicely Mary Barker with young friends
Cicely Mary Barker with young friends

Her family

Cicely's sister Dorothy set up her own kindergarten to earn money for the family. Cicely said in 1958:
"My sister ran a kindergarten and I used to borrow her students for models. For many years I had an atmosphere of children about me - I never forgot it."


Devoted to her mother, Cicely presented her with a first edition of Flower Fairies of the Spring, with this respectfully loving poem:


To mother,
This tiny cup of first fruit wine,
I call it mine,
But it is yours.
And why - because
You are the vine,
And I am yours,
And this is mine.
Thus, tendril-like, the words entwine,
The vine, the wine,
The 'mine', the 'yours',
Yet in one world they do combine,
- I and my vintage,
All are THINE.

With love from Cis,
September 1923


Cicely Mary Barker with her mother and Dorothy in the garden
Cicely Mary Barker with her mother and Dorothy in the garden

Fairy Art

Cicely was also influenced by the huge popular interest in fairies which developed from the Victorian enthusiasm for fairy stories and was epitomised by the immense popularity of J M Barrie's Peter Pan in the early part of the 20th century. Published in 1923, Flower Fairies of the Spring was well received by a post-industrial, war-weary public who were charmed by her vision of hope and innocence, which seemed to evoke a less aggressively modern world.

A Joy Ride, Elves and Fairies, 1918 Queen Mary did much to encourage the vogue for fairy paintings during the 1920s by frequently sending postcards depicting fairies to her friends. This popularity saw the publication of Cicely Mary Barker's Elves and Fairies postcards in 1918.


The Secret World of the Flower Fairies
The Secret World of the Flower Fairies

A Joy Ride, Elves and Fairies, 1918
A Joy Ride, Elves and Fairies, 1918


Cicely Mary Barker always used real-life models for her paintings. Most of the models came from the kindergarten her sister Dorothy ran in the back room of the house in which they lived. She also painted the children and relatives. One of her models was Gladys Tidy, the young girl who came to the house every Saturday to do the household work.

Cicely always asked the child model to hold the flower, twig or blossom of a particular fairy, for she wanted to be sure of the accuracy of her depiction of the shape, texture and form of the plant. Her only alteration was to the size, she enlarged the flower to make it the same size as the child.

Cicely's flowers are always botanically accurate. If she could not find a flower close at hand, she enlisted the help of staff at Kew Gardens, who would often visit with specimens for her to paint.



Gladys Tidy as the
Gladys Tidy as the
Primrose Fairy, 1923
Cicely's Fairies are not ethereal fairies of the supernatural, but portraits of real children, whose characters match the characters of the flowers.

Cicely Mary Barker created all the costumes for her Flower Fairies and based the designs on the flowers themselves.  Each picture depicts a Flower Fairy whose clothes are made from the petals and leaves of their particular flower. She kept materials in a large chest in her studio in her garden; she also kept wings made of twigs and gauze there.  She reused the material several times, unpicking each costume as each painting was finished. She also referred constantly to a book by Dion Clayton Calthrop called 'English Costume' given to her by her grandmother Eleanor Oswald.  Cicely used real child models from her sister Dorothy's kindergarten, and painted the flowers from life as well so her paintings are botanically accurate and realistic.  She was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites who believed in working directly from nature.


The Elm Fairy drew on a portrait entitled Garden Boy
The Elm Fairy drew on a portrait entitled Garden Boy
 
"Prayer at Bedtime" Bible Stories, Prayers, and Hymns
"Prayer at Bedtime" Bible Stories, Prayers, and Hymns


Christian Art

Cicely's art reflects several strong influences. Her family was deeply religious and she retained a strong Christian faith all her life. She greatly admired the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and her own work echoes their philosophy of being true to nature both in her meticulous depiction of flowers and plants and in the way in which the fairies represent their spirit.

Cicely was a devout Christian all her life. Canon Ingram Hill remembers her as "one of the pillars" of St Andrew's Church, Croydon.

Her faith informed all of her work, religious or secular, whether in cards, children's books or decorating the churches with which she was affiliated.

In 1916, Cicely designed eight mission postcards, including Prayer, a picture of a young woman kneeling before an open window, possibly modelled on her sister. In 1923, she painted a series of five birthday cards featuring angels and babies for The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Starting in 1920, Cicely Mary Barker painted many religious works, including illustrated Bible stories, written with her sister Dorothy.


SPCK card
SPCK card
- showing church, 1923

She also painted panels and triptych for chapels and churches including The Feeding of the Five Thousand for the chapel at Penarth and The Parable of the Great Supper for the chapel of St. George's Waddon.


Cicely as a young woman
Cicely as a young woman
Little Book of Bible Stories
Little Book of Bible Stories
Loving Shepherd of They sheep
Loving Shepherd of They sheep
 


THE ESTATE OF CICELY MARY BARKER 2010 | TERMS AND CONDITIONS | PRIVACY POLICY | CONTACT US | FLASH VERSION
Meet the Fairies Books and Gifts Home Fun and Games Whats New Grown Ups Sign up to the Flower Fairies Newsletter