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Alphabet Fairies and Garden Fairies
Cicely Mary Barker
From 1930 to 1950

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Cicely Mary Barker Alphabet Fairies

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Cicely Mary Barker
(Born 1895 Died 1973)

Cicely Mary Barker is possibly the one person that has influenced the most people of the 20th century that fairies could and do exist, was a young painter by the name of Cicely Mary Barker. Her 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 a popularity for her books and drawings, that still lives on today.
Below is a biography of Cicely Barker, I hope you enjoy it with some of her drawings I have placed on this page.

The books of Cicely Mary Barker 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.


Barker was born on 28 June, 1895 in Croyden, Surrey, England, 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 Croydon. 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.


Due to her delicate condition, her parents thought it best to have her educated at home by governesses. Her father paid for a correspondence course in art which she continued until at least 1919. It provided her with details and the constructive criticism that she needed. 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.

Professional Career

At age 15, her father took examples of her work to the publisher Raphael Tuck. They were bought by them and published as a set of postcards. The next year, she won second prize in a poster competition run by the Croyden Art Society. She was soon elected to life membership in the Society, becoming their youngest member.

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 Tuck annuals.

Barker is best-known for her "Flower Fairy" series of books. Fairies were a popular topic at this time; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book The Coming of the Fairies had been published only the year before and included five photographs of fairies taken by two little girls. The photographs had been declared genuine by an expert only to be proven fakes in the 1980's. Queen Mary was fond of the fairy-themed work of the Australian Ida Rentoul Outhwaite and would send out postcards with her fairy images 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 pre-scientific age.

Barker's fairies were based on her knowledge of plants and flowers and her artistic studies of real children, each dressed to represent a different flower. The success of her first volume in 1923, which she also wrote, led to the creation of seven more. 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 compiled from illustrations and poems in her other 7 Flower Fairies books.

In 1924 Barker had a studio built in the garden of their home at 23 The Waldron's, 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."
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.
Barker 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, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. 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.

She continued to paint until her eyesight began to fail her towards to end of her life. She died on February 16, 1973 at the age of 77 years old. Coincidentally, it was the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of her first "Flower Fairy" book that year.

Influences, Style & Technique

As a child, Barker was exposed to the books of Kate Greenaway. She spent many hours in bed coloring or painting meticulously in her many Kate Greenaway painting books. Although her children do not 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, unlike Greenaway's style which is flat (largely due to the printing process of her books that was used at the time.) Barker was also good friends with Margaret Tarrant (right in photo), another children's book illustrator.

Yet Barker gives credit to the Pre-Raphaelites for being her greatest influence (no doubt also influencing Greenaway and Potter).

"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 extent influenced by them", not in any technical sense, but in the choice of subject-matter and the feeling and atmosphere they could achieve. I very much like for example, the early paintings of Millais and though he is much later, the wonderful things of Burne-Jones."
Two 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.
She 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."
Raison d'Etre
There were two concepts that John Ruskin wrote about in Modern painters - in everything, be truthful to nature and art should serve a high moral or spiritual purpose. It is easy to see that Barker was scrupulous in her attention to detail in her flower-fairy paintings, to the point of matching her models character to the type of flower she was depicting.

But Ruskin's second notion troubled Barker a bit. She did a fair amount of charity work but she always worried that she wasn't doing enough. She was well aware of the source of her talents and was grateful for her gifts. The suffering she endured as a child served to strengthen her faith and appreciation of the beauty around her. Even though monetary concerns kept her from doing more religious work, she found a way to incorporate her feelings in her secular work by honoring the beauty in nature and showing compassion in her subjects.

Children's' Books Illustrated

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.

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Alphabet Fairies

Fairy Realm

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The Song of the Scilla Fairy

"Scilla, Scilla, tell me true,
Why are you so very blue?"

Oh, I really cannot say
Why I'm made this lovely way!

I might know, if I were wise.
Yet - I've heard of seas and skies,

Where the blue is deeper far
Than our skies of Springtime are.

P'r'aps I'm here to let you see
What that Summer blue will be.

When you see it think of me!

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The Song of the Celandine Fairy

Before the hawthorn leaves unfold,

Or buttercups put forth their gold

by every sunny footpath shine

the stars of Lesser Celandine

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