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Frances E Macdonald

 (1874 - 1921)
Frances E Macdonald was active/lived in United Kingdom.  Frances Macdonald is known for painting.

Frances E Macdonald

Biography from Christie's London, King Street

Frances MacNair, née MacDonald, was one of the celebrated Glasgow School of Art ‘Four’: comprising her husband, Herbert MacNair; her sister, Margaret MacDonald; and her brother-in-law, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  The group’s style was avant-garde even within the Art Nouveau movement, combining highly stylized form and distinctive repetitive motifs across multi-medium-practices including architecture, poster design, embroidery, and stained glass.  MacNair further managed to carve her own niche within this progressive movement by drawing inspiration from the otherworldliness of Scottish Folklore with a specific emphasis on the female figure.

MacNair portrays Faeiry dreamlike waifs who can be seen as ambiguously vulnerable or predatory in their elongated limbs and hyper-serene faces.  While still a student at the famous Glasgow School of Art (G.S.A.), she received criticism of her ‘weird designs…with impossible forms, lurid colour and symbolism’ (J. Burkhauser (ed.), Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920, London, 1990, p. 128) and it was this unusual marriage of mysticism and women that earned the group the title of the ‘Spook School.’  There are very few comparisons left of MacNair’s works as after her premature death in 1921, her husband destroyed many of her works in a fit of anguish.  However, of these remaining works it has been argued that the watercolour titled "Bows" is one in which MacNair deals most directly with the role of female sexuality through her art.  While often bows, flowers, and other repeating motifs are used to modestly obscure the female figure, here they are used to accentuate the breasts, waist and hips of the depicted. 

Her social pioneering of the women's movement can be seen through her enrollment in the G.S.A. at seventeen, her continued work in the artistic fields after her marriage, and even eventually financially supporting her husband after the loss of his teaching job in 1905.  Although she does not explicitly address feminist issues within her art works we can assume that she was extremely aware of the changing role of femininity in the public consciousness of the late 19th and early 20th Century.  Her use of surreal context for her figures, and an earnestly ambiguous narrative were a way for her to address these frustrations while sidestepping any direct confrontation.

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About  Frances E Macdonald

Born:  1874
Died:   1921
Known for:  painting