Born in 1895, Cicely Mary Barker was an English illustrator who is best remembered for her illustrations of flower fairies. Particularly influenced by Pre-Raphaelite artists, Barker also excelled in watercolor and ink works. She worked most popularly as a children’s illustrator of fantasy, but she also produced Christian-based subject matter.
The second daughter of Walter and Mary Barker, Cicely suffered from epilepsy during her childhood and was cared for by her parents in their upper middle-class home. Her father was a partner in a seed company and the family resided, along with elder sister Dorothy, in Croyden, Surrey, England. Frequently ill and in need of recuperation, Barker spent considerable time in bed looking at books of paintings. Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott were among her favorite artists whose works were particularly influential for her development as an artist. Their home contained a library of books that had a strong impact on her work as well.
Barker began to take art classes at the Croydon School of Art when she was thirteen. She would attend various courses well into the 1940s at the school and eventually began to teach there. In 1911 Barker was able to sell a few of her illustrations to Raphael Tuck, a producer of postcards (today his postcards are among the most collectible) and Barker was subsequently elected to the Croydon Art Society as its youngest member. After Barker’s father died in 1912, she began to submit her work to various magazines like Child’s Own to help support her family. She continued to produce illustrations while her sister opened a kindergarten in their home which had considerable impact on Barker’s work.
In 1918 Barker began to illustrate a special postcard series featuring elves and fairies. By 1923 she was producing fairy paintings with accompanying poems or verses. This same year she published Flower Fairies of the Spring. The work was well-received although she did not begin to benefit financially until her 1925 offering Flower Fairies of the Summer. Barker’s fairies were modeled after the village children in her sister’s kindergarten; she continued to base her fantasy illustrations on her sister’s students and village children for years.
Barker continued to live with her mother and sister throughout their lives. Barker was devoted to the Anglican Church and also painted many religious works. Throughout her career she produced many fairy books, religious paintings, book covers, postcards, and even designed a stained glass window. Most famous for her flower fairies, Barker endowed her fantastical children with equal parts realism and beauty. The children are far more life-like than those of other artists of her generation and before. Her works are also revered for the exquisite renderings of botanicals. Barker died in 1973. Her works remain popular today.