There is a collective flutter of fairy wings reverberating across the Wirral peninsula as a magical exhibition aims to celebrate the legacy of a landmark British publication and its creator.
In its own centenary year, Lady Lever Art Gallery has teamed up with publishers Penguin to mark 100 years of the classic childhood series, the Flower Fairies, and the brilliance of its author and illustrator, Cicely Mary Barker.
Barker’s imaginative and beautiful work, Flower Fairies of the Spring, is universally celebrated by readers young and old. Published for the first time in 1923, it became an instant hit, capturing the imagination of readers across the globe.
Telling the story of Cicely Mary Barker’s legacy, the exhibition will feature more than 45 original illustrations and will look at the inspiration behind the Flower Fairies, Barker’s keen eye for detail, and the impact of the Flower Fairies on future generations.
Fiona Slattery Clark is curator of decorative art at National Museums Liverpool. Alongside assistant curator David Moffat, the pair have put together a selection of work that not only tells Barker’s story, but also highlights the beauty of her work.
Slattery Clark says: “People love Barker’s imaginative paintings of seasonal flowers, each one cared for by its own child fairy who is always graceful and occasionally mischievous. They offer a unique combination of fantasy and naturalism, opening a window into a magical fairyland resplendent with flowers.”
The daughter of a seed merchant, Barker spent much of her childhood at home due to illness. But those challenges faced by Barker in her early life planted seeds which bore the fruit of the Flower Fairies.
Spending time in her garden and inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite paintings of Sir John Everett Millais, she studied flowers meticulously. The botanical accuracy of her work is a key focus of the exhibition, displaying illustrations alongside plant specimens from National Museums Liverpool’s herbarium collection.
“Barker painted nature sensitively and with meticulous attention to detail,” says Slattery Clark. “Experts from Kew Gardens occasionally provided her with botanical specimens or information about taxonomy and plant lore.
“It is a part of her work we want to showcase, alongside the charming illustrations of the Flower Fairies that celebrate the beauty of nature and the innocence of childhood.”
Fantasy combined with naturalism is a central appeal of the Flower Fairies. One hundred years on, the impact of the Flower Fairies endures – never out of print since its first publication in 1923, cementing its place as a mainstay of British children’s literature.
“The series has inspired everything from community gardens near Barker’s home in Croydon, to international fashion brands like Gucci creating a Flower Fairies range. Barker’s books have been translated into 20 languages and remain hugely popular around the world, especially in Italy and Japan.
“Her illustrations and poems impart her knowledge and love of English flowers, plants and trees. They are as appealing in 2023 as they were in 1923, and to this day the Flower Fairies continue to enchant.”
Flower Fairies at Lady Lever Art Gallery is on display until November 5, 2023 featuring Cicely Mary Barker’s illustrations alongside costumes inspired by the fairies, designed by Vin Burnham, and digital projections of the Flower Fairies.
Tickets are free and are available to book now. Visitors are invited to make a donation when booking. Click here for more information.