Margaret MacDonald (5th of November 1865 - 10th of January 1933) is not as well known as many other artists, sometimes getting cast in the shadows of her husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh. But, she was one of the most gifted and successful female Art Nouveau artists in Scotland at the turn of the century. She created a wide range of watercolours, graphics, metalwork and textiles. Her greatest achievements no doubt were in gesso, a plaster-based medium, which she used to make decorative panels for furniture and interiors.
Margaret was born in England and came to Glasgow with her family around 1890. She became a student at the Glasgow School of Art with her sister Francis, where she met Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert McNair. She eventually left in the mid 1890's and set up an independent studio in the city with her sister. They worked together until France's marriage and departure for Liverpool in 1899. MacDonald married Mackintosh in 1900.
Collaboration was key to Margaret's creativity, with her sister, she produced metalwork, graphics, and a series of book illustrations. With her husband Charles, she primarily produced the panels for interiors and furniture, notably the tea rooms and The Hill House. Not a lot of details of their relationship is known, because very little documentation survives. However, we do know that MacDonald played a highly important role in the development of the decorative symbolic interiors of the early 1900s, including the House for an Art Lover portfolio, the Rose Boudoir, Turin and the Willow Tea Rooms. Her husband once wrote in a letter to her saying, "Remember, you are half if not three-quarters of all my architectural.." and also reportedly said, "Margaret has genius, I have only talent"! It is not known which of his work she was involved with, but she has always been credited with being an important part of her husband's figurative, symbolic interior designs. Gustav Klimt himself, was said to be taken with her creations and was arguably an influence on him after they both exhibited at the 1900 Vienna Secession. (Smart women influence everything).
Sadly, poor health cut short Margaret's career - as far as anyone knows, she produced no work after 1921, She died in 1933, five years after her husband. The largest single holding of her work is housed at the Hunterian Art Gallery at the University of Glasgow.
Her best know works include the Gesso panel 'The May Queen', which was a partner to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's panel 'The Wassail' for Miss Cranston's Ingram Street Tearooms, and 'Oh ye, all ye that walk in Willowood', which formed part of the decorative scheme for the Room de Luxe in the Willow Tearooms. All three of these are now on display at the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow.
I've had the pleasure of viewing her work at the Kelvingrove Museum and it is a must see. The simplicity yet intricate details of it is a delight to the eyes.
Have a wonderful weekend darlings!!
Some of her work
Margaret Macdonald paints the world as she sees it on the day of her 29th birthday: a woman nestles, hands beneath her chin, within a mound of earth as she watches the rockets of Bonfire Night light up the sky.
O Ye, All Ye That Walk in Willowood
Panel for the Salon de Luxe, Willow Tea Rooms, Sauchiehall Street.
(Painted gesso on hessian, set with glass beads)
Date: circa 1894
May have been a design for a stained glass window
The Queen of Diamonds
The White Rose and the Red Rose
The Opera of the Seas
Date: circa 1915
The Heart of the Rose
The Mysterious Garden
This is an example of the large watercolours which Margaret MacDonald began to exhibit after 1910, inspiring Charles Rennie Mackintosh to turn to watercolour painting as a full-time occupation. As Billeliffe observes, however, 'while his subject matter remained firmly based on nature, Margaret retained her interest in obscure legend and myth or the stories of Maeterlinek'.
The May Queen (detail)
One of three panels for the Ladies Luncheon Room, Ingram Street Tea Rooms.
(Oil painted gesso on hessian and scrim, set with twine, glass beads, thread, mother-of-pearl, and tin leaf panel). The May Queen was a girl chosen, especially for her beauty, to preside over the May Day celebrations (the first day of May, traditionally a celebration of the coming of Spring). The eve of May 1st is known as Walpurgis Night, which is believed in German folklore to be the night of a witches' sabbath on the Brocken, in the Harz Mountains.
The May Queen
Date: 1900 Sketch