A celebration of the art of the Flower Fairies

The famous 'Flower Fairies' paintings we all grew up with are celebrated in a new exhibition at the Garden Museum in London.

Cicely Mary Barker is the artist who found fame in the early 20th century for her irresistible ‘Flower Fairies’ books and illustrations. Now, in honour of the centenary of the publication of her early works, some of her most famous pictures have been brought together for a display at the Garden Museum in London, which runs from August 8 to September 30.

Many of Barker’s early works and features pieces – brought in from the Frederick Warne archive, as well as from private collections – will be on public display for the first time.

Barker, who was renowned for her accurate rendering of British plants that feature alongside her famous fairies, began her illustrations as loose sketches – often depicting plants and children separately – which were then worked up into more detailed fairy drawings and watercolours.

The Nightshade Fairy © The Fuchsia Fairy © The Estate of Cicely Barker

The Nightshade Fairy © The Estate of Cicely Barker

Many of these sketches will be featured in the exhibition, together with 45 of Barker’s paintings and first editions of her ‘Flower Fairies’ books, published by Blackie. And even those who are familiar with the pictures will be in for a surprise.

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‘The watercolours are the pièce de résistance of the exhibition,’ says museum curator Emma House. ‘The early printing process didn’t do them justice.’

Barker’s work was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, children’s book illustrator Kate Greenaway and Alice Woodward, Barker’s second tutor and the illustrator of The Peter Pan Picture Book, the first illustrated version of the story of Peter Pan.

Barker captured the public mood at a time when people were keen to be transported from the horrors of the First World War and, equally, had been taken in by the infamous Cottingley fairy photographs in 1917 (it was 60 years before the children who took them admitted it had been a hoax).

The Fuchsia Fairy © The Estate of Cicely Barker

The Fuchsia Fairy © The Estate of Cicely Barker

‘There was wide interest in fairies after the First World War and a lot of artists drew them,’ says Miss House.

‘However, Cicely’s continuing appeal is confirmed by the fact that her books have never been out of print. There is lasting interest in her because of the beauty of her images and the playfulness of her fairies, who all have their own characters.’

The Cicely Barker exhibition runs from August 8 until September 30. See www.gardenmuseum.org.uk for further information.