MACDONALD, Margaret
(b. 1864, Tipton, nr Wolverhampton, d. 1933, London)

Biography

Scottish illustrator and designer, wife of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Margaret Macdonald and her sister Frances (Eliza) Macdonald (1873-1921) were two of the most original artists working in Glasgow in the 1890s. Together with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair (1868-1955), they became known as The Four. The group created a distinctive decorative style that was disseminated internationally through exhibitions, in particular the fifth exhibition of the Arts and Crafts Society in London (1896), the eighth exhibition of the Vienna Secession (1900) and the Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa in Turin (1902), as well as through periodicals. In this way, though they had few direct imitators, they provided a substantial impetus for the development and recognition in Britain and on the Continent of a distinctive Glasgow style.

The sisters attended Glasgow School of Art (1890-94) before opening a city centre studio. During the 1890s, they worked so closely together, in a variety of media and occasionally in collaboration with MacNair, that much of their work from this period cannot be differentiated.

Following the marriage of Frances Macdonald and MacNair in 1899, the sisters' collaboration ended, and their careers diverged. Frances joined MacNair in Liverpool, where she taught embroidery at the School of Architecture and Applied Art, University College, until 1909. During these years, she concentrated on painting watercolours, also designing and executing jewellery and embroidery.

Margaret Macdonald married Mackintosh in 1900. Her subsequent career is well documented, largely through the Mackintosh estate of drawings, watercolours and archival material (Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow), which contains more than half of her total output. Following the student and studio work of the 1890s, her career can be divided into the years of collaboration with Mackintosh and a period of declining activities from 1910. The wide-ranging activities of the 1890s helped to define her style and preferred media. From 1900 she continued with watercolours, also producing some graphics and textile designs and a few pieces of beaten metalwork. She concentrated, however, on gesso and embroidery because their potential for including a variety of materials and colours suited the development of her decorative style better than metalwork did.