Many people remember the flower fairies as enchanting mythical figures from their childhood, while nowadays we see them on greeting cards and giftware. The Flower Fairies were created by Cicely Mary Barker in 1923, when she had her first series of drawings published in a book. Since then her works have become children’s classics and are sold around the world.
Cicely Mary Barker was born in Croydon, South London in 1895 and being a sickly child she was educated at home. Cicely excelled at pastel drawing and taught herself to paint in oils and watercolours. Her father encouraged her to draw and together they joined the Croydon Art Society in 1908.
It was later discovered that Cicely suffered from epilepsy, which was not well understood in Edwardian England. The Art Society was a lifeline for Cicely, where she was able to exhibit her work and meet with people and in 1911, at the age of only 16, she was elected a life member of the Croydon Art Society.
Fairies were very popular during the early 20th century, especially after the publication of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan. Cicely was hugely influenced by the fairy fashion and sketched numerous drawings of the fairy folk. By the age of 16 Cicely was already selling her fairy work to magazines and to printers of greeting cards, postcards and stationery.
Cicely’s father died unexpectedly in 1922 leaving her, her mother and sister with very little money. Cicely already had a large portfolio of drawings of fairies, which were of outstanding quality, coupled with her accuracy of botanical details that made the background of her illustrations. A publisher picked up her work and her first book Flowers in Spring was published in 1923 by Blackie, for which Cicely received the sum of £25, and this made a considerable difference to the family finances.
Over the years Cicely published more books, including Flower Fairies of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. She also produced books on Flower Fairies of the Garden, of the Trees and of the Wayside. Each book contained a series of drawings along with a little poem to go with each illustration. Cicely called her poems ‘songs’ so each fairy had a little song to sing.
Cicely used real life models for her paintings and always obtained the flowers or foliage for close inspection. Cicely was a great admirer of the Pre-Raphaelites and followed many of their philosophies in painting. Her pieces were always true to nature and this led to the use of minute detail which echoed the beliefs of the movement.
Today Cicely’s works are collected worldwide by flower fairy enthusiasts. Early editions of her books are sought after. Her drawings are all under copywright and anyone wishing to reproduce them in print form or onto merchandise has to obtain a licence. Royal Worcester have done this and have produced all kinds of flower fairy related giftware, such as trinket boxes, wall plates, figurines and miniature plates. Ranges such as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter were beautifully crafted into fine bone china and they tend to retail between £19.95 – £24.95.
Cicely was able to see her books published during her lifetime, but only in recent years has the merchandise taken on a whole new level. The Flower Fairy ‘brand’ is now a multi-million pound business that is recognised around the world. Cicely Mary Barker died in 1973 at the age of 78. Her books are relatively affordable, old editions can be bought for as little as £5. Books published during the 1920s and 1930s generally fetch larger sums of money, although a 1939 book, The Book of Flower Fairies recently sold on eBay for £152.
If you have a larger budget, Cicely Mary Barker’s watercolours are beautiful things to own. They don’t come onto the market very often, so keep your eyes open. Ewbank Auctioneers sold a watercolour of a fairy music orchestra for £2,400 in 2002.