Art Nouveau

The Romantic World Of M(a)cdonald’s Art (No Burgers Included)

Magda Michalska 28 November 2016 min Read

(Sorry for this inappropriate pun in the title, I simply couldn’t stop myself.)

I’m not going to serve you any reheated burgers, on the contrary, today’s artists are a real gem in the Scottish art history. Let’s move to the 19th century Glasgow, the second biggest city of the Victorian empire and a hub for an always growing artistic community, to meet Margaret and Frances Macdonald!

Sisters’ business

Frances MacDonald, Spring, The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
Frances MacDonald, Spring, 1900-5, The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Margaret and Frances were born in England but moved to Glasgow in 1890(Margaret was 26, Frances 17). Frances was however as talented as her older sister and they both enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art for the design course. They were the first generation of female day students, since previously women had not been admitted. Sisters began collaborating and in 1896  they opened their own studio in Glasgow, Macdonald Sisters Studio at 128 Hope Street. They worked with textiles, graphics, illustration, metal or even interior design. That’s what we call multitasking!

Boys enter the game

Margaret macdonald Mackintosh, Label for 'Sheenore Fabrics', 1915 - 1923, Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, Label for ‘Sheenore Fabrics’, 1915 – 1923, Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow

As in every school there are groups, our sisters were part of a group called the Spook School (people laughed at them because the human figures they depicted were often distorted). However, today we call them The Glasgow Four because out of the bigger group, four people gained the most acclaim: Margaret, Frances, and two boys: an architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair. To make things more romantic, Margaret fell for Charlie and Frances for Herbert. Ideal, isn’t it?


Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, The Mysterious Garden, 1911
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, The Mysterious Garden, 1911, Hunterian Art gallery, Glasgow

Margaret married in 1900 and the girls separated in their artistic production. Margaret began working closely with her husband and she stood behind many of his successful projects. Charles admitted that Margaret was half if not three-quarters of all his architectural work. He called Margaret a genius and he didn’t mean it only as an endearment. Francis started collaborating with Herbert, whom she married in 1899, as well as she taught in Liverpool where the couple moved after the marriage.

Sad end?

 Frances MacDonald, Prince and the Sleeping Princess, The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
Frances MacDonald, Prince and the Sleeping Princess, 1894-6,  The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Sadly, girls’ artistic production is not as famous as their husbands’. Many of Francis’ works were destroyed directly by her husband after her death (WHY?! Despair/envy? I can’t get it.), while Margaret always stayed in the shadow of her husband and after she fell ill, she stopped making art completely.

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