Life and Work of Margaret

Margaret MacDonald MackintoshThe following is a very brief over view, but does put into context the gesso panels Margaret Macdonald created during her life, as well as highlighting some of the major collaborative works she completed with her husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

1864 Margaret MacDonald was born on November the 5th in Tipton, near Wolverhampton, England. Her father John MacDonald was an engineer, born in Glasgow, who had travelled south for work in the mines near the Welsh border and in the Potteries. Her mother, Frances Grove Hardeman, was from Staffordshire, although her father originally came from Glasgow, where his family were partners in the long established law firm of MacDonald, Son and Smith.

Margaret MacDonald had one elder brother, Charles, and two younger brothers, John Stewart and Archibald Campbell, and one younger sister Frances, who was born in 1873.

Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, Photographed by Annan in c. 1906

1876 John MacDonald became the estate agent for the Heathcotes, a large land owning family, and the MacDonalds moved into the eighteenth century Chesterton Hall in Staffordshire, one of the most prestigious houses in the area. This elegant and stately house was home to Margaret MacDonald until she was almost 25.

Local legend suggests that Chesterton Hall was built on an ancient Celtic circular site or stone circle.The countryside surrounding the house was very wild and beautiful, so it must have been quite a shock when the family later moved to the city of Glasgow.

1877 Margaret enrolled in the extremely progressive Orme Girls' School in North Staffordshire, which was a pioneer in the
field of female education.

Here Margaret studied art with J.P Bacon, who was head master at Stoke on Trent Art School in 1884, the year the school was awarded a silver medal by South Kensington, in recognition of it's direct influence on various local industries. J.P Bacon himself was a well respected painter, who regularly exhibited at the Royal Academy.

All this is very much parallel to the role of Fra Newbery and his vision of The Glasgow School of Art. Newbery was headmaster of GSA from 1885 - 1917.

After leaving Orme's there is evidence that Margaret visited the Continent, as many girls of her background did at that time, and studied in Germany. She certainly spoke both French and German.


1888 The family moved to 9 Windsor Terrace, in the west end of Glasgow.

1890 Margaret and her sister Frances enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art as day students. Charles Rennie Mackintosh
was first admitted to the school in 1883, and Herbert McNair was admitted in 1889.

Exactly how and when they all first met each other is not clear but it's most likely that fellow student Jessie Keppie had a hand in it, as Mackintosh was by now working with her brother John, in the firm of Honeyman & Keppie.

1893 Six Photographs taken of The Four, together with fellow students Jessie Keppie, Agnes Raeburn, Janet Aitken and Katherine Cameron in a series of group shots taken in the countryside around the Keppies family summer home in Dunure, on the Ayrshire coast.
They call themselves " The Immortals ".

Article in The Magazine, published by students at The Glasgow School of Art. This is a commentary on students work which directed almost all the attention to the "brilliant sisters MacDonald ".

Mackintosh works on alterations to Craigie Hall on the edge of Bellahouston Park, and very close to where the House for an Art Lover would be built.

1894 Mackintosh's engagement to Jessie Keppie is terminated, and it is around this time that he and Margaret committed themselves to each other.

Margaret and Frances exhibit at The South Kensington Institute, and then at the GSA Art Club Exhibition. Their exhibits prompted a number of far from sympathetic articles in the local press. They are ridiculed as " the spook school". However, the headmaster, Fra Newbery was quick to challenge these criticisms of his students, as indeed he always did.

1895 Margaret and Frances start to work collaboratively with Herbert McNair, on an occasional basis. In July The Yellow Book publishes six watercolours, two each by Margaret and Frances, and two by McNair.In October they exhibit in London at the 5th Arts and Crafts Exhibition. Two supportive articles appear in the influential Studio magazine, which introduced their work to the Continent. Margaret's father, John MacDonald dies.

1896 Margaret and Frances opened a studio at 128 Hope Street, Glasgow. For the next three years they work, mostly together
on a very wide range of designs in a number of different materials. Perhaps their best known works from this period are their beaten metal panels, which are totally unique.

1898 Article in Dekorative Kunst. Margaret's first recorded collaboration with Mackintosh. This was for three metal panels by her for a cabinet and fireplace designed by Mackintosh for H.Bruckmann's dining room in Munich. She may also have had a hand in the stencil around the frieze.

In fact it is impossible, from this point on, to say exactly whether a design idea was Margaret's or Mackintosh's.They clearly thought through each project together, although it was always Mackintosh, as a trained draughtsman, who actually drew the designs and perspectives.

1899 Frances married McNair and left Glasgow.

The MacDonald family moved into the historic Dunglass Castle, on the banks of the Clyde.

Margaret and Mackintosh create their first white room at Dunglass Castle. Possibly Margaret makes a gesso panel for over the sitting room fireplace. Certainly, the design that can be seen in the photograph is a very simple version of The May Queen.

1900 Marriage of Margaret MacDonald to Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Episcopal church in Dumbarton, a short drive from Dunglass Castle.

Together they work on a pair of gesso panels for The White Dining Room at Miss Kate Cranston's Ingram Street Tea Rooms. Margaret's gesso panel is entitled The May Queen, and Mackintosh's is entitled The Wassail.

Before being installed in Ingram street these were first exhibited in the room that they designed at the Vienna Secession Exhibition of 1900.

The competition for The House for an Art Lover is announced in the very influential design magazine Zeitschrift fur Innendekoration, while they are staying in Vienna.

Also while in Vienna Margaret met Gustav Klimt and greatly impressed him. So much so, that Klimt's work was very influenced by hers for a considerable period.

1901 Margaret and Mackintosh submit their joint entry to The House for an Art Lover competition by the deadline of the 25th of March. However, their entry, although disqualified for not providing the correct number of interior perspectives, was awarded a purchase prize, and was one of three entries published as a folio in 1902.

1902 They are invited to take part in The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art in Turin. They create The Rose Boudoir. For this Margaret created two gesso panels The Heart of the Rose, and The White Rose and the Red Rose. For this exhibition Margaret also made a vase, a table cloth, a bowl, Christmas cards, Wedding cards, in fact a whole range of exhibits.

Margaret created two further gesso panels, The Dreaming Rose and The Awakened Rose ....which are set into the insides of the dark oak doors of a writing desk designed by Mackintosh. She also made a metal panel The Spirit of Love, which is set into the back of the cabinet in the centre. She also made two further painted metal panels for the outside of the doors, showing a weeping rose.

Interestingly Roger Billcliffe states that " Margaret indicated in her list that duplicates were possible, and that the Turin panels themselves are duplicates."

Fritz Warndorfer, a wealthy Austrian businessman and generous patron of the arts, who had visited the Mackintoshes in Glasgow in early 1900, and who had funded their trip to Vienna later that year, commissioned two gesso panels from Margaret. These were small panels to be inserted into the casing of a piano for his Music Room, which Warndorfer also commissioned from the Mackintoshes this year.
One of these panels, The Opera of the Wind, was completed in this year.

1903 The other gesso panel of the pair, entitled The Opera of the Sea, was completed.

The Music Room for Fritz Warndorfer is completed to huge acclaim. However, the gesso panels by Margaret were not completed until 1909, and the proposed gesso panel by Mackintosh never, it seems, got beyond the design stage.

This same year Margaret created the much larger gesso panel O Ye, All That Walk in Willow Wood. This was the centrepiece of the Room de Lux in Kate Cranston's Willow Tea Rooms in Sauchiehall Street.

This room was one of their most successful collaborations, and attracted a great deal of publicity.

1904 This year Margaret completed the gesso panel Summer, which was then hung on the east wall of the drawing room at Dunglass Castle. The design is a progression of a design she
did at Glasgow School of Art, which won the local design competition in 1894 for a " design for a window of mosaic glass".

Margaret often did this, working a picture in different mediums at different times of her life, sometimes with hardly
any changes at all.

1905 Margaret paints The Sleeper.

1906 Moved from 120 Mains Street to 6 Florentine Terrace, near Glasgow University.

Margaret paints Cinderella, and exhibits her painting The Silver Apples of the Moon in Glasgow.

1907 Margaret exhibits her painting Spring, in Glasgow.

1908 Completed the gesso panel The Sleeping Princess for above the drawing room fireplace at The Hill House in Helensburgh.
The commission for the house , which was completed in 1904, came about through an introduction by Talwin Morris,who had lived at Dunglass Castle before the MacDonalds moved there. Morris was the head designer for Blackie & Co, and was one of the few artists they knew who seems to have been on the same spiritual wavelength as themselves. Visited Portugal.

1909 This was the year that Margaret MacDonald completed what we believe to be her masterpiece. It not only is her largest work, being made up of three panels of 1.52 x 2 metres ( 60"x 79" ) each, but is of such a technical excellence and powerful design that it quite literally takes your breath away.

Adding to it's impact is the fact that the colours are as bright and vibrant as when it was first painted. The reason is that
it was hidden away at the start of the 1914-18 war, due to the anti British feeling throughout Austria and Germany. This
would have been perceived as the work of the enemy, and so could easily have been vandalised or simply destroyed.

In the event, the panels, which are extremely heavy, were crated-up and taken down to the basement of The
Osterreichisches Museum Fur Angewanote Kunst, in Vienna. They were placed against the wall of the basement, and a false wall was built in front of them. There they remained undiscovered until 1990 when new pipes were being installed.

Obviously, those who were responsible for this inspired action perished in the war, or simply thought better about revealing the whereabouts of this treasure. What it meant though was that the panel, or panels, had not been subjected to the pollution of smoky fireplaces and tobacco smoke that the other gesso panels had been subjected to.

The panels have now been wonderfully restored by the conservator Manfred Trummer, and are on display in the museum where they were hidden.

The subject is the Seven Princesses from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck, who was one of the Mackintosh's favourite authors, and was arguably the person, apart from her husband, who most influenced the life and work of Margaret MacDonald.

This year also saw Margaret complete her final gesso panels The Four Queens, which were incorporated in The Card Room at Catherine Cranston's home, Hous'hill in Glasgow. They are currently on display at the Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, Virginia, USA.

Sketching holiday in Sussex.

1910 Sketching holiday in Kent.

Margaret exhibits her painting Dead Princess at the International Art Exhibition in the Secession Building, Vienna.

1911 Work on the interiors at Miss Cranston's Tea Rooms, Ingram Street, Glasgow. Margaret paints The Mysterious Garden.

1912 Margaret exhibits her painting The Dancer of the Rhododendrons in Edinburgh.

1913 Mackintosh resigned from Honeyman, Keppie and Mackintosh. Margaret submits photographs of the Seven Princesses, and In Willow Wood, as well as a design for The May Queen to the Ghent International Exhibition.

1914 Margaret and Mackintosh take an extended holiday in Walberswick, on the Suffolk coast. He is exhausted, and has by now become totally depressed by the lack of interest and appreciation of his work in Glasgow.

Margaret sends three pictures to the Arts Decoratifs de Grande Bretagne et d'Irelande Exhibition in Paris.

1915 Margaret and Mackintosh move to London, and he never returns to Scotland. In London they made many new friends and seem very happy. Amongst their friends were Patrick and Anna Geddes, Augustus John, J.D Fergusson and his wife Margaret Morris, George Bernard Shaw, James Pryde, Frank Dobson, and E. McKnight Kauffer to name but a few.

They also continue their love of theatre and pageants, which had begun in Glasgow with the Art School masques. They joined private theatrical clubs and groups, and helped design sets and costumes.

Margaret and Mackintosh also produce a large number of textile designs while living in London.

1916 The final documented artistic collaboration of Margaret with Mackintosh is the series of seven or eight paintings with candelabra that they exhibited at the 11th Arts and Crafts Exhibition in London. This was collectively titled The Voices of the Wood.

1920 6 Florentine Terrace was sold to their friend and patron William Davidson.

1921 Frances dies, and Margaret paints La Morte Parfumee

1922 Margaret paints her last known watercolour, The Legend of the Blackthorns.

1923 Both moved to the South of France.

1926 Margaret goes to London for medical treatment, and while she is there Mackintosh writes a series of letters to her. Indeed, he writes to her almost every day.

These letters are very important, as they give an insight into how much he loves and admires Margaret. He says that he merely has talent, and she Margaret has genius, and on another occasion he tells her to always remember that she was half of all his architectural work.

1927 Both return to London so that Mackintosh this time can have medical treatment.

1928 Mackintosh dies in London on the 10th of December.

1933 Margaret dies in London on the 7th of January.

This section will be upgraded from time to time, as no doubt I have made several mistakes, and have certainly made many omissions.


The following is a list of books for further reading, which have provided much of the source for the above.

Timothy Neat Part Seen, Part Imagined. Canongate Press ISBN 0862413664
Janice Helland The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald ISBN 0719047838
Hanna Egger, Pamela Robertson, Peter Vergo & Manfred Trummer,A Thoroughly Modern Afternoon. ISBN 3205989368
Pamela Robertson Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh Hunterian Art Gallery 26 Nov '83 - 7 Jan '84 catalogue.
Jude Burkhauser (ed) Glasgow Girls Women in Art & Design 1880-1920 ISBN 0862413322X
Roger Billcliffe Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings & Interior Designs. ISBN 0719543185
Thomas Howarth Charles Rennie Mackintosh & The Modern Movement. ISBN 0415053072
Jan Marsh & Pamela Gerrish Nunn. Women Artists & The Pre-Raphaelite Movement. Virago Press 1989
Alistair Moffat & Colin Baxter. Remembering Charles Rennie Mackintosh. ISBN 0948661097
David Brett C.R Mackintosh. The Poetics of Workmanship. ISBN 0948462221