Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Embroidery Design by Margaret Macdonald

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald. Embroidered handkerchief design.

Although the most prolific contributor to turn of the twentieth century contemporary embroidery work in Glasgow was undoubtedly that of Ann Macbeth, others did also work or at least design within this textile discipline. Margaret Macdonald produced some varied work over a two to three decade period that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Although perhaps better known today for her fine art work and metalwork, Macdonald was a versatile and talented designer with a particularly unique approach to both art and design. So much so she proved to be inspirational on a relatively wide scale, and her style was at least partially imitated on a number of levels both nationally and internationally.

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald. Embroidered handkerchief design.

Embroidery had become an important element in the expanding multi-disciplined contemporary image that was projected by the Glasgow School of Art. Its specific style, part of the broad movement that was the European Art Nouveau, was independent enough from the general style to enable Glasgow to procure a unique place within the European decorative arts world, both at the time and eventually in an historical framework as well. An important element within this unique style was the work of Macdonald.

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald. Embroidered handkerchief design.

Macdonald is perhaps best known today for her collaboration with her husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh. However, she also had, at an earlier stage, an important and possibly more creatively fulfilling collaboration with her sister Frances Macdonald. These two women produced a style between them that was both experimental and specific in its general impression and compositional intent. The sisters, although perhaps today less well known for their unique contribution to Glaswegian Art Nouveau as that of the work of Mackintosh, nevertheless should be recognised for their own very important input into the style that became known as the Glasgow School.

Macdonald's individual contribution to contemporary embroidery design and decoration can be seen with the range of examples shown in this article, most of which are from the first few years of the twentieth century. They range from her more contemplative, fine art based and almost ethereal style, to work produced before the First World War that was part of a much more accomplished though less personal, paired down modern approach that has certain similarities to the decorative and design work being produced in Germany during the same period.

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald. Embroidered portiere design, c1913.

Although Macdonald produced much smaller quantities of embroidery work than perhaps some of her contemporaries, the design work that she did produce seems much more considered and has the look of an artist and designer that was used to pushing the imaginative boundaries of disciplines, mediums and compositional decoration and pattern. This can be found in her fine art work where not only did she employ interesting and unusual mixtures of materials for the composition itself, but also included the metal frame as part of that composition, something that inevitably intrigued Gustav Klimt when he came across Macdonald's work in Vienna.

In many respects it is disappointing that Macdonald's work is so limited in quantity, particularly in comparison to that of her husbands. However, the work we do have says much about her unique approach to the creative process and her inevitable influence over other contemporary artists and designers. Her distinctiveness has added immeasurably to this most important phase of European decorative arts history.

Reference links:
The May Queen: Margaret MacDonald MacKintosh. 14.00 inches by 8.75 inches. Art Print Poster
Design for a Bookplate, 1896 by Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh 24.00X30.00. Art Poster Print
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, 1864-1933: Hunterian Art Gallery, 26 Nov 83-7 Jan 84
Design for a Music Room with Panels by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh 1901 Giclee Poster Print by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 18x24
Scottish Painters: Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, William Quiller Orchardson, John Michael Wright, William Simpson
The White Cockade, Illustration For a Menu, 1911: Margaret MacDonald MacKintosh. 26.00 inches by 19.00 inches. Art Print Poster
Ein moderner Nachmittag: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh und der Salon Waerndorfer in Wien = A thoroughly modern afternoon : Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh ... Salon Waerndorfer in Vienna (German Edition)
The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald
Mackintosh Paintings: The Art of Charles and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

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