CICELY MARY BARKER
“Blake’s Easy Story Book” 1924
British Children’s Book Cover painting from the Downton Abbey Era.
Watercolour, pencil, ink, on watercolour paper, Hand lettered.
9.5” x 12.5”
Signed by the artist, lower left
Publisher: Blackie and Son, London
Provenance: Chris Beetles Gallery, London, Purchased 1997
Cicely Mary Barker (1895 – 1973) was an English illustrator known for creating the FLOWER FAIRIES series of illustrations that appear on cards and posters along with the Flower Fairy book series. Though she published Flower Fairy books with spring, summer, and autumn themes, it wasn’t until 1985 that a winter collection was assembled from her remaining work and published posthumously.
Her earliest professional work included greeting cards and juvenile magazine illustrations. Her first book, Flower Fairies of the Spring, was published in 1923.
Barker was equally proficient in watercolour, pen and ink, oils, and pastels. Kate Greenaway and the Pre-Raphaelites were the principal influences on her work.
In 1908 at 13 years, she entered an evening class at the Croydon School of Art, and attended the school into the 1940s. In time, she received a teaching position. In 1911, Raphael Tuck & Sons bought four of Barker’s “little drawings” for half a sovereign and published them as postcards.
Fairies became a popular theme in art and literature in the early 20th century following the releases of The Coming of the Fairies by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, and the fairy-themed work of Australian Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. Queen Mary made such themes even more popular by sending Outhwaite postcards to friends during the 1920s. In 1918, Barker produced a postcard series depicting elves and fairies.
In 1923, Barker sent her flower fairy paintings to various publishers. Blackie paid £25 for 24 paintings with accompanying verses, but it wasn’t until publication of Flower Fairies of the Summer in 1925 that Barker received royalties for her work.
Barker worked principally in watercolor with pen-and-ink, but she was equally competent in black-and-white, in oils, and in pastels. She carried a sketchbook with her for capturing interesting children. She once indicated, “I have always tried to paint instinctively in a way that comes naturally to me, without any real thought or attention to artistic theories.
The Pre-Raphaelites were a strong, lifelong influence on Barker. She once indicated, “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.” She admitted a fondness for the early paintings of John Everett Millais and “the wonderful things” of Edward Burne-Jones.