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Margaret Tarrant's Fairies

Margaret Winifred Tarrant (1888-1959), artist and illustrator, was born on 19 August 1888 in London.

Encouraged by her father, the artist Percy Tarrant, she excelled at drawing and painting from an early age and whilst attending Clapham High School won several awards which encouraged her to become an art teacher. However, she decided that teaching was not for her and, after discussion with her father, became a full-time artist and illustrator.

In 1907 the family moved to Gomshall, in Surrey, and in 1908 at the age of 19 she undertook her first commission, to illustrate Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies for J M Dent and Sons. Other commissions followed, including Alice in Wonderland (1916), Hans Anderson (1917) and Nursery Rhymes (1914 and 1923) for Ward Lock & Co., and two sets of postcards for the Oxford University Press. She also illustrated some 20 books for George G Harrap between 1915 and 1929. Always concerned with improving her techniques, she attended several courses at Heatherley's Art School during this period.

In 1920 she began working regularly for the Medici Society, a long and fruitful association, with Margaret being made a shareholder in the company in 1938. During the 1920s she illustrated a highly successful series of fairy books for the company.

During the 1930s Margaret moved to Peaslake in Surrey and she soon became a well-known figure in the community there. Although she never married, Margaret made many loyal and long-lasting friends, both through her painting and her membership of the local church. Her friends described her as full of energy, travelling around the area on an ancient bicycle to save petrol, despite not always being in the best of health herself. Many neighbours were used as models for her pictures. She was well known for her love of animals and for her formidable cat companion, Bobby.

Although her paintings and illustrations were often of fairies or religious subjects, she believed fervently in sketching from life. Many of her paintings were bordered with leaves and flowers characteristic of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Art Nouveau style which she much admired. Her true love lay in painting wild flowers of which she had an extensive knowledge, and she considered the illustrations for a series of wild flower postcards published by the Medici Society between 1937-1952 to be among her best works.

Margaret's Christian faith was important to her, and in 1936 the Medici Society financed a six week trip to Palestine to inspire her work. Part of her illustrated diary from this trip was published as A Journey to the Holy Land (1988)

During the early 1950s her eyesight began to deteriorate, a source of great frustration to her. Her health in general was not so good although she still made the effort to go into the countryside and sketch from life whenever she could.

She died on 28 July 1959, leaving some pictures to friends and the rest of her estate to 12 charities. Her work is still popular and much of it remains in print as greeting cards, postcards and prints.

The Margaret Tarrant collection is one of the most extensive held in the archive. Margaret Tarrant's illustrations date from the 1920's, reflecting the enchanting and magical world of fairies, flowers and young children. These delightful, whimsical sketches and watercolour illustrations established Margaret Tarrant as a major talent in one of the great periods of children's illustration.

Indeed, her world of fairies and flowers have been delighting generations of children and adults ever since the first illustrations appeared in the "Fairies and Flowers" series of books, specially commissioned by Medici in the early 1920's. In April 2002, Medici re-published six Fairy books for the first time in 80 years.

Today, Margaret Tarrant is appreciated by connoisseurs and collectors worldwide. The enduring, nostalgic qualities of her designs have a charm and elegance that still delight young and old.

Related Information

Brand Values

  • Artistic
  • Magical
  • Nostalgic
  • Timeless
  • Pure

Target Market

  • Women 35yrs +
  • Mothers/Grandmothers
  • Enthusiasts & Collectors

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