Cicely Mary Barker

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Cicely Mary Barker
Smiling teen girl with braided hair looking to her left
Barker in her teens
Cicely Mary Barker

28 June 1895
Croydon, Surrey, England
Died16 February 1973(1973-02-16) (aged 77)
Resting placeAshes spread in the churchyard at Storrington, Sussex, England
EducationCorrespondence art courses
Croydon School of Art
Occupation(s)Author, illustrator, artist
Years active1911–1962
Employer(s)Various publishers but chiefly Blackie and Son Limited
Commissions from various British dioceses
Known forIllustrations of fairies and flowers
Triptychs and other works for the Anglican church
Notable workThe Flower Fairies of the Spring (1923) and other Flower Fairy books
The Feeding of the Five Thousand
The Parable of the Great Supper
Out of Great Tribulation and other Christian-themed works in various British churches and chapels
Parent(s)Walter Barker and Mary Eleanor (Oswald) Barker
RelativesDorothy Oswald Barker (sister)
Signature of Cicely Mary Barker.jpg

Cicely Mary Barker (28 June 1895 – 16 February 1973) was the illustrator who created the famous Flower Fairies, in the shape of ethereal smiling children with butterfly wings. As a child, she was greatly influenced by the works of the illustrator Kate Greenaway, whom she assiduously copied in her formative years. Her principal influence, however, which she duly credited, was the artwork of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Early life[edit]

Cicely Mary Barker was born in 1895 in Croydon, 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.

In 1908, when Cicely was 13, her father enrolled her at the 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."

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. 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.

Fairy Art[edit]

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.

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.

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. In a foreword to one of her early editions, she wrote that she had drawn all the plants and flowers very carefully from real ones and everything was as true as she could make it, that she had, however, never seen a fairy. Even though she hadn't seen one, if you really believe you can see a fairy. And i know that i really believe.[1]

Christian Art[edit]

Barker'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.

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, Barker 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, Barker painted many religious works, including illustrated Bible stories, written with her sister Dorothy. 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.


  • Flower Fairies of the Spring; London, Blackie, 1923, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Spring Songs with Music; London, Blackie, 1923.
  • Flower Fairies of the Summer; London, Blackie, 1925; Frederick Warne, 1985.
  • Westcott, M. K., Child Thoughts in Picture and Verse; London, Blackie, 1925.
  • Flower Fairies of the Autumn; London, Blackie, 1926; Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Summer Songs with Music; London, Blackie, 1926.
  • The Book of the Flower Fairies; London, Blackie, 1927.
  • Autumn Songs with Music; London, Blackie, 1927.
  • Old Rhymes for All Times; London, Blackie, 1928.
  • The Children’s Book of Hymns; London, Blackie, 1929.
  • Barker, Dorothy, Our Darling’s First Book; London, Blackie, 1929.
  • Beautiful Bible Pictures; 1932.
  • The Little Picture Hymn Book; London, Blackie, 1933.
  • Rhymes New and Old; London, Blackie, 1933.
  • A Flower Fairy Alphabet; London, Blackie, 1934.
  • A Little Book of Old Rhymes; London, Blackie, 1936.
  • Barker, Dorothy, He Leadeth Me; London, Blackie, 1936.
  • A Little Book of Rhymes New and Old; London, Blackie, 1937.
  • The Lord of the Rushie River; London, Blackie, 1938, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Flower Fairies of the Trees; London, Blackie, 1940, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • When Spring Came In at the Window; London, Blackie, 1942.
  • Stevenson, Robert Louis, A Child’s Garden of Verses; London, Blackie, 1944.
  • Flower Fairies of the Garden; London, Blackie, 1944, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Groundsel and Necklaces; London, Blackie, 1946, published as Fairy Necklaces, Frederick Warne, 1991.
  • Flower Fairies of the Wayside; London, Blackie, 1948, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Flower Fairies of the Flowers and Trees; London, Blackie, 1950.
  • Lively Stories; Macmillan, 1954.
  • The Flower Fairy Picture Book; London, Blackie, 1955.
  • Lively Numbers; Macmillan, 1957.
  • Lively Words; Macmillan, 1961.
  • The Sand, the Sea and the Sun; Gibson, 1970.
  • Flower Fairies of the Winter; London, Blackie, 1985, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Simon the Swan; London, Blackie, 1988, Frederick Warne, 1990.
  • Flower Fairies of the Seasons; Bedrick/Blackie, 1988.
  • A Little Book of Prayers and Hymns; London, Frederick Warne, 1994.
  • A Flower Fairies Treasury; London, Frederick Warne, 1997.


  1. ^ She had drawn her flowers carefully from real ones but had never seen a fairy
Works cited
  • Ortakales, Denise (2002), Cicely Mary Barker, retrieved 30 June 2010
Further reading
  • Commire, Anne, (editor), Something About the Author, volume 49; Detroit, Gale Research, 1987.
  • Dalby, Richard, The Golden Age of Children’s Book Illustration; New York, Gallery, 1991.
  • Horne, Alan, The Dictionary of 20th Century British Book Illustrators; Suffolk, Antique Collector’s Club, 1994.
  • Laing, Jane, Cicely Mary Barker and Her Art; London, Frederick Warne, 1995.
  • Peppin, Brigid, and Micklethwait, Lucy, Book Illustrators of the Twentieth Century; New York, Arco, 1984.

External links[edit]