Frances MacDonald and J Herbert McNair
(27 January 2007 - 22 April 2007)
Known as the Glasgow Four, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, wife Margaret Macdonald
Mackintosh, J. Herbert McNair and his wife (sister to Margaret) Frances
Macdonald McNair, were among the most avant-garde artists/designers of
their time. They propelled themselves into the public eye through their
novel, though much anticipated approach, pushing the boundaries and almost
changing the world of art by definition.
The work of Mackintosh is still very much celebrated today, and his iconic
deco prints decorate and adorn much in the modern western world, from
furniture to jewellery. It is perhaps fitting then, that the Doves and
Dreams exhibition lays acclaim to the lesser known, though no less important
members of the group - the McNair’s.
The exhibition documents their lives through their work, from getting
their feet off the ground in Glasgow in the 1890’s, to groundbreaking
success in Liverpool in the early 1900’s, then follows back to their
final tragic years in Glasgow. Throughout this journey we see their dream
as it transpires, is realised, commended, and finally broken. We share
in the highs and lows of two lives brought together through a mutual love
and perception of art.
The work of the McNair’s is portrayed through an array of different
forms, from metalwork, to glassware and furniture design, though more
specifically, and indeed significantly, through watercolour. Even through
early pieces, such as ‘Ysighlu’ and ‘Girl with Butterflies’,
it is easy to see their distinctive style emerging, and their world of
myth and fairytale evolves through work. It is precisely this idea that
would become, in a way, their trademark, and saw them embark upon their
journey to victory.
Following early exhibitions of their work in Paris and Venice, a move
to Liverpool would be the springboard to send the McNair’s spiralling
into success. As their eye turned from artwork to interior design, so
came about their most ambitious and most acclaimed exhibition to date,
‘A Lady’s Writing Room’, which has been meticulously
recreated for the Walker’s current exhibition. Words are integral
to the piece. Both written and read, and expressed through a host of different
means, it is argued that words form some unity. However, for me, it is
the repeated image of fledgling birds that becomes most poignant through
its assumed depiction, thus, young minds eager to learn, just as theirs
had once been.
Upon approaching the end of our journey through the exhibition, we see
Frances Macdonald McNair’s final watercolours. Following the demise
and untimely death of her husband, these few late additions to her life’s
work almost become some haunting homage to her own life. The presiding
theme of the images, perhaps, the issues she had faced throughout her
years, like loss, redemption, motherhood, love and entrapment.
When coming away from the aptly named Doves and Dreams exhibition, you
can but fail to see just how the Glasgow Four affected the world of art,
by inspiring followers with their highly stylised work, and can but commend
advances made by the elusive duo in a once relatively unexplored world