Margaret Winifred Tarrant
(1888—1959)
Margaret Tarrant was a prolific English illustrator that created posters, greeting cards, calendars, postcards and books for fifty years. She was most popular during the 1920’s and 1930’s for her romantic depiction of children, fairies and animals.

Childhood & Education

Tarrant was born in Battersea, a suburb of south London in 1888. She was the only child of Percy Tarrant, the landscape painter, and his wife, Sarah Wyatt. Percy was a successful illustrator of magazines as well as books and greeting cards. His work was very influential in her life and he her encouraged her to take up illustration. As a child, Tarrant would set up an ‘Exhibition Tent’ with sheets, pin up her art work and invite her parents inside for viewing.

Her first training was in the art department of Clapham High School, where she won several awards for drawing, then moving on to Clapham School of Art. She briefly trained as a teacher, but turned to watercolor painting and illustrating instead. After she had already been established as in illustrator, in 1918, 1921 and 1923, she studied at Heatherley’s School of Art, in London, and in 1935 at Guildford School of Art, where she met fellow artist Molly Brett.

Professional Career

Tarrant began to work for publishers of Christmas cards at the age of eighteen and became a book illustrator at the age of twenty with the publication of Kingsley’s The Water Babies in 1908. The next year, she produced a series of paintings for postcards, published by C.W. Faulkner. She worked for many publishers, working almost exclusively with the Medici Society in her later years. For them, she collaborated with Marion St John Webb on a popular series of Flower Fairy books in the 1920’s. 

Tarrant’s work also became enormously popular for use on postcards, calendars, greeting cards and prints, many published by the Medici Society. Her best-known painting, ‘The Piper of Dreams’ was reproduced and sold by the thousands.

Around 1930, Tarrant’s parents were ill and needed her constant care. Her father’s deteriorated so badly that he need Tarrant to finish off the details of his paintings. Both of her parents died in 1934 within months of each other.

During the 1920’s and 30’s, her religious paintings became very fashionable, the best-known being ‘He Prayeth Best’, depicting a shepherd boy kneeling on a hilltop. In an effort to collect material for her work, the Medici Society sent her on a trip to Palestine in 1936. After the death of her parents, this was exactly what Tarrant needed. She was inspired and thrilled by what she saw there and enjoyed sketching and painting the landscape and its people.

During the Second World War, she contributed a few paintings to the war effort. In an attempt to save on petrol, Tarrant could be seen riding around the village on an old bike. One day, she saw a neighbor’s child drawing on two shed doors, apparently due to the wartime paper shortage. She immediately hopped off her bicycle and joined in, covering the doors with a display of assorted animals and faeries, not forgetting to add a portrait of the child into the mix.

She has exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Royal Society of Artists in Birmingham. By 1953, her health and eyesight was deteriorating. Within a few years, she gave up her house in Peaslake to live with her friend Molly Brett in Cornwall. She died on 28 July 1959. She left her pictures to her friends and her estate to twelve charities.

Influences & Technique

She became friends with Cicely Mary Barker, another children’s book illustrator. Barker is best known for her fairy books and there is no doubt that Tarrant was influenced by them. Barker also did religious paintings similar to Tarrant’s.

Tarrant worked in many media, including pen-and-ink, delicately colored watercolor, and graphite. Her silhouette type drawings were also very popular. As described by one mother whose child Tarrant had sketched, she would start various sketches as the child moved around, sketching an arm here, a leg there, returning to the sketch as the child resumed that position again. She would then invent her composition, adapting the figures from her series of sketches.

Raison d’Être

“I began drawing at a very early age and have never lost my love of it nor my great interest in all artistic work.”

Although she did not consider herself a ‘high-church person’, she certainly was expressing her religious beliefs in her paintings.

“My love of nature has led me to the kind of work I now do—I want to lead people’s thoughts from nature’s wonder to nature’s Creator.”
 

Children’s Books Illustrated

  • Kingsley, Charles, The Water Babies, Dent, 1908.

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  • Autumn Gleanings from the Poets, 1910.

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  • Fairy Stories from Hans Christian Andersen, Ward Lock, 1910.

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  • Perrault, Charles, Contes, 1910.

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  • D. S. N., The Songs the Letters Sing, 1910.

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  • Dewar, G. A. B., The Book of Seasons, 1910.

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  • Browning, Robert, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Dent, 1912.

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  • Bigham, M. A., Merry Animal Tales, 1913.

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  • Nursery Rhymes, Ward Lock, 1914.

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  • Wilman, Stanley, Games for Playtime and Parties, Jack, 1914.

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  • Adock, Marion St John, The Littlest One, London, Harrap, 1914.

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  • Cole, F., A Picture Birthday Book for Boys and Girls, 1915.


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  • Snell, F. J., The Girlhoods of Famous Women, 1915.

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  • Carroll, Lewis, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, London, Ward, Lock, 1916.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, Knock Three Times!, Ward Lock, 1917.

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  • Howard, K., The Little God, 1918.

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  • Stevenson, Robert Louis and music by Crawford, Thomas, Songs with Music from A Childs Garden Of Verses, Jack, 1918

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  • Beard, Patten, The Jolly Book of Boxcraft, London, Harrap, 1918.

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  • Rhys, G., In Wheelabout and Cockalone (with Megan Rhys), 1918.

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  • Golding, Harry, Verses for Children, 1918.

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  • Golding, Harry, Zoo Days, Ward Lock, 1919.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, Eliz’beth, Phil and Me, London, Harrap, 1919.

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  • Rudolph, Robert De Montjoie., The Tookey and Alice Mary Tales, 1919.

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  • Crompton, F. E., The Gentle Heritage, 1920.

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  • Hayes, N. M., The Book of Games (with Nina K. Brisley), 1920.

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  • Our Day, 1923.

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  • Rhymes of Old Times, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Forest Fairies, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The House Fairies, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Insect Fairies, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Pond Fairies, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Sea Shore Fairies, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Wild-Fruit Fairies, Medici Society, 1925.

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  • Webb, Marion St. John, The Magic Lamplighter, Medici Society, 1926.

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  • The Tales the Letters Tell (with others), The Grant Educational Co Ltd.,1926.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Orchard Fairies, Medici Society, 1928.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Twilight Fairies, Medici Society, 1928.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Seed Fairies, Medici Society, 192?.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Littlest One’s Third Book, 1928.

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  • Farjeon, Eleanor, An Alphabet of Magic, Medici Society, 1928.

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  • Webb, Marion St John, The Little One In Between, Harrap, 1929.

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  • Mother Goose: Nursery Rhymes, London, Coker, 1929.

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  • D. S. N., Simple Composition Steps, 1930.

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  • Mackenzie, E., Simple Reading Steps, 1930.

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  • Golding, Harry, Fairy Tales, Ward Lock, 1930.

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  • Golding, Harry, Our Animal Friends, London, Coker, 1930.

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  • Oxenham, J., The Hidden Years, 1931.

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  • The Margaret Tarrant Birthday Book, 1932.

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  • The Rose Fyleman Birthday Book (with Muriel Dawson), 1932.

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  • Todd, B., Magic Flowers, 1933.

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  • Joan in Flowerland, 1935.

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  • Gann, M., Dreamland Fairies, 1936.

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  • Margaret Tarrant's Christmas Garland, Boston, Hale, Cushman & Flint 1942.


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  • Flowers of the Countryside (with others), 1943.

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  • D. S. N., The Songs the Letters Sing, The Grant Educational Co Ltd., 1944.

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  • The Margaret Tarrant Nursery Rhyme Book, 1944.

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  • Wood, Gilmore, Johan the Woodcarver, London, Frederick Warne, 1949.

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  • The Margaret Tarrant Story Book, London, Collins, 1951.

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  • Bamfield, Katherine B., The Story of Christmas, London, Medici Society, 1953.

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  • Davidson, G., All About the Man in the Moon, n.d.

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  • Golding, Harry, Willie Winkie the Tale of a Wooden Horse, London, Ward, Lock, n.d.

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  • Herbertson, Agnes Grozier, Lucy-Mary or The Cobweb Cloak, New York, Dodge, n.d.

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  • Favourite Fairy Tales, London, Ward Lock, n.d.

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  • Jack the Giant-Killer, n.d.

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  • Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland, Ward Lock.

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  • Hans Andersen Stories for Children, Ward Lock.

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  • Barnes, Rosemary, Wigley, London, Ward Lock.

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  • Mother Goose Nursery Tales, London,  Coker, n.d. 
More Images by Margaret W. Tarrant

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Illustrated by Margaret Tarrant

Kingsley, Charles, The
Water Babies, J.M. Dent,
1908.
 Adock, Marion St John,
The Littlest One, London,
Harrap, 1914.
Stevenson, Robert Louis
and music by Crawford,
Thomas, Songs with Music
from A Childs Garden Of
Verses, Jack, 1918.
Stevenson, Robert Louis
and music by Crawford,
Thomas, Songs with Music
from A Childs Garden Of
Verses, Jack, 1918.
Margaret Tarrant's
Christmas Garland,
Boston, Hale, Cushman
& Flint 1942. 
The Margaret Tarrant
Nursery Rhyme Book,
1944. 
The Margaret Tarrant
Nursery Rhyme Book,
1944.
The Book of the Clock,
Salem House, 1986.
The Book of the Clock,
Salem House, 1986.
The Book of the Clock,
Salem House, 1986.
The Book of the Clock,
Salem House, 1986.
Children's Verses, Salem
House, 1986.
Children's Verses, Salem
House, 1986.
Stevenson, Robert Louis and music by Crawford, Thomas, Songs with Music from A Childs Garden Of Verses, Jack, 1918.
Sources
Dalby, Richard, The Golden Age of Children's Book Illustration, New York, Gallery, 1991.
Edens, Cooper, The Glorious ABC, New York, Atheneum, 1990.
Gurney, John, Margaret Tarrant & her pictures, London, The Medici Society, Ltd, 1982.
Horne, Alan, The Dictionary of 20th Century British Book Illustrators, Suffolk, Antique Collector’s Club, 1994.
Laing, Jane, Cicely Mary Barker and Her Art, London, Frederick Warne, 1995.
Mahoney, Bertha E. and Whitney, Elinor, Contemporary Illustrators of Children's Books, The Book Shop for Boys and Girls, Boston, 1930.
Peppin, Brigid, and Micklethwait, Lucy, Book Illustrators of the Twentieth Century, New York, Arco, 1984.
© 1999–2002 Denise Ortakales
All Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page last updated on 24 August 2002.

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