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Flower Fairies enchant at Lady Lever Art Gallery

Exquisite watercolours of flower fairies are on show at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in an exhibition marking 100 years of artist Cicely Mary Barker’s work.

The exhibition, run in conjunction with Penguin Ventures, explores the 20th Century illustrator’s beautifully detailed designs which have enchanted generations since they first appeared in print in 1923.

It includes 45 original illustrations from the collection held by the Warne Archive while the show also features Barker’s sketchbook and other personal items, alongside herbarium sheets from National Museums Liverpool’s botany collection and a trio of miniature flower fairy costumes by award-winning costume designer Vin Burnham.

The exhibition also considers the popularity of fairies in the 1920s when Barker started publishing her illustrations.

And magnifying glasses are available for visitors to examine Barker’s botanically correct paintings in detail.

Cicely Mary Barker was born in Croydon in 1895 and started drawing and painting at an early age to entertain herself after spending time in bed with epilepsy.

Growing up, she was inspired by the books of Victorian illustrators Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway, as well as Pre-Raphaelite artists.

When she was 13 her father enrolled her in the Croydon Arts Society, and at 16 she was elected its youngest ever life member. After her father died in 1912, she realised she could support her family by selling her drawings, paintings and poetry.

During the First World War her watercolours – inspired by Shakespeare, seaside holidays, children in traditional costumes of the Allies, and elves and fairies.

Her first book, Flower Fairies of the Spring, was published by Blakie and Son in 1923 and featured her illustrations and verse. Flower Fairies of the Summer followed in 1925 and Flower Fairies of the Autumn in 1926. In all she produced eight books of fairies and elves along with illustrating a host of other publications.

Above: Cicely Mary Barker (left) with her mother, sister Dorothy and family dog. Top: A slideshow of artworks in the Flower Fairies exhibition.

Sara Glenn, commercial curator at Penguin Ventures, said: “I see it as a privilege to work with these artworks. Cicely Mary Barker isn’t one of those well-known artists, and this exhibition really promotes how brilliant she was.

“The specimens from National Museums Liverpool’s own collection show how botanically accurate her illustrations actually are.

“Although these were originally created as illustrations for books, we see them as artworks in their own right. They stand alone – and people can appreciate them for their beauty.

“Most of her models were friends, family and neighbours, and children in her sister Dot’s kindergarten nursery [which she ran in the back room of their home]. She watched and sketched them, and posed them with something in their hands, and also linked them with the flowers and plants, bringing out their personalities.”

The exhibition is co-curated by Fiona Slattery Clark, NML curator of decorative art, and NML assistant curator David Moffat.

Flower Fairies is at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until November 5.

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