seems to tickle the imagination of children more than visions of the fairy
world. Almost 100 years ago, world-renowned artist and poet, Cicely Mary Barker,
created an amazing world of illustrations and poems bringing flower fairies to
life. She painted dozens of Flower Fairies. Some were part of a Flower Fairy
alphabet. Others were Flower Fairies of the garden, of the forest, and of
spring, summer, and fall. Her fairies recreate the beauty of nature as well as
the joy of childhood. The books of Cicely Mary Barker (1895 – 1973) have
enjoyed an enduring popularity with adults and children alike. Her pictures of
nostalgic children and floral sprites are charmingly delicate in detail and
exhibit her Christian morality and understanding of nature. Learning about Cicely
Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies can actually open doors to the world of
horticulture, botany, natural science, and ecology as well as poetry. Below is
a biography of Cicely Mary Barker. I hope you enjoy it with some of her poems
and drawings I have placed on this page.
Mary Barker was born on 28
June, 1895 in Croyden, a town near London,
to Walter Barker and Mary Eleanor Oswald. Walter Barker was descended from a
long line of wood carvers, a profession which he also pursued. In 1909, he
donated a hand-carved pulpit to the family church, St. Edmund’s in Croyden. His
daughter also showed an innate sense of creativity early on, engaging in hours
of drawing and painting as a child. She suffered from epilepsy as a child, a
condition which disappeared after World War I and never afflicted her again.
Because of her illness, she was treated as the baby of the family and overprotected
her whole life. In part, this may have contributed to her understanding and
portrayal of children in her artwork.
to her delicate condition, Cicely was unable to go to school and her parents
thought it best to have her educated at home by governesses. For the child was
schooled at home by a governess, fairies were tiny companions, the unknown
childhood friends of a girl living small, in a society of adults. Besides she
largely taught herself to draw and paint, encouraged by a supportive family.
Her loving father encouraged her work and paid for her to study art through a
correspondence course which she continued until at least 1919. It provided her
with details and the constructive criticism that she needed but this was not her
only training. He also enrolled her in an evening class at the Croyden School
of Art when she was thirteen, which she continued to attend into the 1940’s,
eventually earning a teaching position there.
the age 15, her father submitted some examples of her work to the publisher Raphael
Tuck. They were bought by him and published as a set of postcards. And from
that time she devoted her career to painting. The next year, she won second
prize in a poster competition run by the Croyden
Art Society. She was soon elected a life member of the Society, becoming
the youngest person ever to receive this honour. From this time onwards, she
was able to sell her works to magazines, to postcard and greeting card
manufacturers, and later to book publishers. This was very helpful to the
family finances. The art critic for the Croyden
Advertiser commented: "Her drawings show a remarkable freedom of spirit.
She has distinct promise.” Barker had a special relationship with her father.
He was proud of her and fond of calling her "Ciskin”. After her father’s
untimely death in 1912, her older sister, Dorothy, tried to support the family
with her small teaching salary. Barker also tried to help by selling poetry and
illustrations to magazines such as My Magazine,
Child’s Own, Leading Strings and Raphael
year is 1920, and a young (and as yet unpublished) Cicely Mary Barker is
staying at a friend’s cottage in Storrington, West
Sussex, for the spring and summer. Over the months as
she sketches and writes in the gardens and grounds, she starts to suspect the
presence of fairies in the flowers all around her. Her journal reveals her
thoughts and musings, and includes sketches, research into general fairy
folklore and many more extra items, as she searches for evidence that the
Flower Fairies exist! Barker is best known for her Flower Fairy series of
books. Flower Fairies are the product of this English illustrator. No one has
ever drawn fairies as Cicely Mary Barker has. The Flower Fairies created by Cicely
Mary Barker have brought magic and joy to children and adults alike for many,
were a popular topic at this time. Queen Mary was fond of the fairy-themed work
of the Australian Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and did much to encourage the vogue for
fairy paintings during the 1920’s by frequently sending postcards depicting
fairies to her friends. It was also a time when people wanted to escape the
harsh realities of progress, and return to a simpler and more innocent
in 1923, Cicely Mary Barker, created the first of her Flower Fairies books, this unassuming artist could have little idea
of the immense popularity that the flower fairies series would enjoy. Her
originality and skill as an artist continues to charm and delight a world-wide
readership. All collections of her fairy works offer a nostalgic glimpse into
the romantic age, each illustration suggesting that beyond the natural world
there might co-exist another, invisible world of the fairies. Cicely was
industrious and determined. 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. 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.
her mother, Cicely presented her with a first edition of Flower Fairies of the
Spring, with this respectfully loving poem:
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,
The wine, the wine,
The "mine”, the "yours”,
Yet in one world they do combine.
I and my vintage
All are THINE.
With love from Cis,
What is a
Flower Fairies are tiny creatures
(the biggest is only 20cm tall) that live in the bottom of gardens, the middle
of grassy meadows, and on the edge of distant marshes. Wherever and whenever a
seed sprouts, a Flower Fairy baby is born. Each Flower Fairy lives and sleeps
in their chosen flower, plant or tree, and as this grows the fairy grows too.
Each and every Flower Fairy is in charge of looking after their flower or
plant; keeping it strong and healthy by making sure it has plenty of sunshine
and water to drink, sweeping away dead leaves, and polishing flowers and stems.
How to Find Flower Fairies
The best times of the day to see a
fairy are at twilight, , just before sunrise, and . And the best time of the year to
see a fairy is on Midsummer's eve, as this is the most magical time for all
fairies. Flower Fairies love music and dancing, and hold many balls and parties
throughout the year, but on this special night they throw the most wonderful
party of all, and every fairy in Flower Fairyland is invited! Fairies don't
like to be discovered, and are very good at disappearing quickly (with the help
of their magical fairy dust), so you must be very careful and very patient if
you are to see one.
Flower Fairies are very shy creatures,
and are especially wary of humans - who they find very big and loud! Each fairy
has extra-sensitive ears, so if they hear someone coming close to them they are
careful to flutter into their flower and curl up tightly. Each fairy wears an
outfit made from their own leaves and flowers, so it is easy for them to hide.
Mary Barker painted them as beautiful wide-eyed children and adolescents, with
absolutely amazing accuracy on the accompanying flowers. The poem for each
flower fairy describes the characteristics of the flower with such grace it
sends chills up my spine. Wonderful books for parents to read to their
children, as well as a great book for adults who want to stay children at
heart. 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 her relatives. One of
her models was Gladys Tidy, the young girl who came to the house every Saturday
to do the household work.
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.
flowers are always botanically accurate. If she could not find a flower close
at hand, she enlisted the help of staff at KewGardens,
who would often visit with specimens for her to paint. Cicely’s Fairies are not
ethereal fairies of the supernatural, but portraits of real children, whose
characters match the characters of the flowers.
Mary Barker carefully studied plants; flowers, insects and butterflies, and her
artistic studying of children is evident in her work. Barker managed to
integrate accurate botanical details, the physical beauty and the personality
of a flower into every fairy. Each is a remarkable and captivating creation.
The delightful poems or "Songs” of each fairy always use the specific
characteristics of the plant as the basis of the verse. What better way could
be found to get children to appreciate the finer details of nature, or for
adults to rediscover them?
Flower Fairies series of books which she both wrote and illustrated were very
successful and she created seven more.
fairies were based on her knowledge of plants and flowers and her artistic
studies of real children, each dressed to represent a different flower. Barker created a new costume for each of the
fairies, carefully taking them apart when she was done in order to reuse the
fabric. She never compiled a book of winter flower fairies. It was not until
1985, 12 years after her death, that Flower
Fairies of the Winter was compile from illustrations and poems in her other
seven Flower Fairies books.
1924 Barker had a studio built in the garden of her home at 23 The Waldrons,
which also housed her sister’s kindergarten school. In 1961, she told a Croyden Advertiser reporter, "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.” Cicely used the
children in the school as her models, matching the character and appearance of
the child to the character and appearance of the flower. For example: Lavender loves to sing and play. One of her
favourite things to do is twirl around and around a lavender stem until she
feels quite dizzy! She is friends with the white butterflies that flutter
around her flowers, and they often play games of chase, darting back and forth
amongst her sweetly scented fronds. She provides her scented flowers to the
other fairies to make their clothes smell delicious. Outgoing and friendly, Buttercup likes nothing better than to
skip through the summer meadows, visiting friends and singing to herself in the
sunshine. She fills the fields with her yellow flowers, which she polishes
until they shine like gold, which give pleasure to all her fairy friends and
human children too.
every fairy costume echoes the characteristics of the flower featured in a
meticulous way, and the fairies themselves range from the cheeky little Heather
boy racing over the moors to the graceful Willow
fairy, dreamily gazing into quiet waters. Never sentimental, each picture fuses
fantasy and reality in a unique portrait of fairy child and flower. Many of
these students appeared as her Flower Fairies until 1940 when her sister closed
down the school. After Dorothy died in 1954, Barker designed a stained glass
window for St. Edmund’s Church in memory of her sister.
was a devout Christian, contributing designs for postcards and greeting cards
over the years to the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, the Girls’
Friendly Society, etc. In 1925, one of these paintings, "The Darling of the
World is Come” was purchased by Queen Mary. In addition, she also made
paintings for churches, as well as donating paintings to help raise money.
continued to paint until her eyesight began to fail her towards to the end of
her life. She died on February
16, 1973 t the age of 77. Cicely Mary Barker died in
1973 but her remarkable talent lives on, her gentle Flower Fairies touching the
heart still in our harsher modern age. Coincidentally, it was the fiftieth
anniversary of the publication of her first Flower Fairy book that year.
Influence, Style & Technique
a child, Barker was exposed to the books of Kate Greenaway. She spent many
hours in bed colouring or painting meticulously in her many Kate Greenaway
painting books. Although her children don’t seem as melancholy as Greenaway’s,
they wear similarly nostalgic clothing in idealized settings. Like Beatrix
Potter she studied flowers with a botanist’s eye. Barker’s style of painting
and modeling of her subjects is similar to that of Potter’s. Barker was also
good friends with Margaret Tarrant, another children’s book illustrator. Yet
Barker gives credit to the Pre-Raphaelites for being her greatest influence.” I
am very much interested in the Pre-Raphaelites. I have been, all my life, and
I’ve tried to see as much of their work as I possibly can… I am to some extend
influenced by them – not in any technical sense, but in the choice of the
subject matter and the feeling and the atmosphere they could achieve. I like very
much, for example, the early paintings of Millais and though he is later, the
wonderful things of Burne-Jones.”
of Barker’s most cherished books were the two-volume set Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones that she received for Christmas in
1920 from her mother. The family also owned The
Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais which she enjoyed reading.
worked mostly in watercolor with pen-and-ink and sometimes in black-and-white.
She was also proficient in oils and pastels. She was in the habit of carrying a
sketchbook with her and would quickly sketch any interesting child for future
use. "I have always tried to paint instinctively in a way that comes naturally
to me, without any real thought or attention to artistic theories.”
Mary Barker is possibly the one person that has influenced the most people of
the 20th century that fairies could and do exist.
many paintings of different flowers, with these little fairies standing,
sitting, or dancing by, was done with the accuracy which would make one think
that she may of actually have seen these little guys among the flowers she
painted. But she denies of ever seeing one as she states in her foreword to Flower Fairies of the Wayside, "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 as
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
established popularity for her books and drawings that still lives on today.
also produced a lot of Christian art over the years. She donated art and
designs to Christian mission and charity groups and created art for churches as
well. However, she is most remembered for her Flower Fairies.
of Flower Fairies work and play in every garden, wood and meadow caring for
flowers and trees. They only reveal themselves to those who believe in them.
So, leave your disbelief behind, and prepare to enter the secret world of the Flower
The Song of
the Rose Fairy
Best and dearest flower that grows,
Perfect both to see and smell;
Words can never, never tell
Half the beauty of a Rose-
Buds that open to disclose
Fold on fold of purest white,
Lovely pink, or red that glows
Deep, sweet-scented. What delight
To be Fairy of the Rose!
The Song of
the Daffodil Fairy
I’m everyone’s darling: the blackbird and starling
Are shouting about me from blossoming boughs;
For I, the Lent Lily, the Daffy-down-dilly,
Have heard through the country the call to arouse.
The orchards are ringing with voices a-singing
The praise of my petticoat, praise of my gown;
The children are playing, and hark! They are saying