The Lesser Brethren

As a child I had a vivid imagination, which often got me into trouble. I would imagine wallpaper coming to life, so much so that my father had to change it. It had nursery rhymes on it, and I imagined the cat playing the fiddle and the cow really jumping over the moon! I had pictures of all kinds on my bedroom – ballet, pop stars of the time, and my illuminated cross bought in Birmingham. To me, the sign of a good picture is that, when you look, you always see something new within.

The Lesser Brethren by Margaret Tarrant

One of my favourite pictures, which I still love, is ‘The Lesser Brethren’. It shows a stylised Jesus, surrounded by wild animals. Even at an early age and being fond of all creatures (even the creepy crawlies), it showed me God in creation. I love the fox looking up and the red squirrel clambering lovingly up Jesus’ sleeve. It isn’t to everyone’s taste but to me it has a quiet beauty and humility. The picture was painted by Margaret Tarrant, a children’s illustrator and author, whose favourite topics were fairies and religious themes.

Margaret Winifred was born on 19th August 1888 in Battersea to Percy and Sarah Tarrant. Her father, a landscape artist, encouraged his only child to take up illustrating, as she showed a flair for art at an early age. Margaret attended Clapham High School, won several awards, and eventually trained as an art teacher. She attended Guildford School of Art and took courses at Heatherley School of Fine Art. She exhibited at the RBSA (Royal Birmingham Society of Artists) and at Dudley Art Gallery. Having begun her career at aged 20, she continued until the 1950’s. She remained single and lived with her parents in Peaslake, Surrey.

Her work was popularised by The Medici Society, based in America. It was through them that her work was made into cards, prints, postcards and calendars. Her illustrations were used in many books including Kingsley’s ‘The Water Babies’. She also wrote and illustrated her own books. When her parents died within three months of each other, she continued to live at Peaslake. She became a shareholder in The Medici Society and her activities revolved around the local parish church and raising money for the Church Missionary Society. Towards the end of her life her eyesight began to fail and she moved to Cornwall, living with her good friend Molly Brett (another illustrator whose work I love). After being in and out of hospital, Margaret died on 28th July 1959. From her estate she gave pictures to friends and left monies to twelve charities.

Three illustrators have had an impact on my life – Margaret Tarrant, Molly Brett and Mabel Lucie Attwell, whose illustrations of a little chubby girl are based on her daughter. All three knew each other and attended the Guildford School of Art – I love the work of all three!


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