Margaret Winifred Tarrant (1888-1959) From the late 1900s, Margaret Tarrant was preoccupied with chronicling innocent childhood in its many moods and its great variety of activities. From 1920, her talents were channelled by her most important business relationship, with the Medici Society, which still publishes her books, cards and calendars today. Though her approach could seem highly idealised, even romanticised, its success lies in the degree to which it was grounded in close observation and the discipline of drawing from life. Margaret Tarrant was born in Battersea, London, on 19 August 1888, the only child of the painter and illustrator, Percy Tarrant, who encouraged her early artistic talents. She grew up in Margate, Kent, and Clapham, London, and was educated at Clapham High School (1898-1905), where she won several prizes for drawing. In 1905, she began to train as an art teacher, but a lack of confidence in her ability to teach led her father to guide her into his own profession of illustrator.
Soon after the family’s move to Gomshall, Surrey, she illustrated her first book, a new edition of Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1908), and, from then on, was preoccupied with chronicling childhood in its innocence, its many moods and its great variety of activities. Developing her talents through many and varied commissions and through further studies at the Heatherley School of Fine Art (1918, 1921, 1923), she also exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1914 and 1927, and at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists.
Tarrant began her most important business relationship only in 1920, with the Medici Society; ranging from books to calendars, her work for Medici gave her wide exposure and made her a much-loved figure throughout the 1920s and 30s. Following the death of her parents in 1934, she moved to Peaslake, Surrey, and made friends with the artist Molly Brett, whom she met on a course at Guildford School of Art. However, she was able to accept her circumstances and return to painting only in 1936, when the Medici Society sent her to Palestine; from that time, her religious paintings took on a new aspect. She continued to work until 1953, when her health, and particularly her eyesight, deteriorated. In 1958, she finally let her house in Peaslake, and joined Molly Brett in Cornwall. However, she died at her home, Troon, Wonham Way, Peaslake, on 28 July 1959.
Further reading: John Gurney, Margaret Tarrant and Her Pictures, London: The Medici Society, 1982 Claire Houghton, ‘Tarrant, Margaret Winifred (1888-1959)’, in H C G Matthew and Brian Harrison (eds), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, vol 53, pages 791-792