Item MC/A/14 - 'Vanity' mirror

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'Vanity' mirror


  • c1896 (Creation)

Level of description




Content and Structure

Scope and content

Beaten lead mirror with peacock designs. The mirror was almost certainly part of the furnishings of the Mackintoshes Southpark Avenue flat taken over by William Davidson when he purchased the flat.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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General Information

Name of creator


Biographical history

Scottish-born Herbert McNair was a highly individual designer and talented teacher. He made an important contribution in the early 1890s to the development of Mackintosh’s creative imagination, and his paintings and furniture designs were among some of the most most individual of the Glasgow Style of the 1890s. The promise of his early career was not fulfilled however, largely because of external factors, and no work after 1911 is known. McNair trained as an architect with Honeyman and Keppie, Glasgow from 1888 to 1895, where he met Mackintosh. He subsequently set up an independent studio as an artist and designer in the city centre – he never practised architecture. McNair had early success with a one-man show of his pastels in London in 1898 and his appointment that year as a lecturer at the School of Architecture and Applied Art, University College, Liverpool. Frances Macdonald and he married the following year, and their only child, Sylvan, was born in 1900. The couple exhibited work in Vienna (1900), Turin (1902) and Dresden (1903), as well as regularly exhibiting watercolours in Liverpool and London in the early 1900s. Difficulties arose with the closure of the School in 1905. McNair and a colleague set up an alternative school but this experiment was short-lived. Combined with these setbacks, the family wealth had been dissipated through poor business management. McNair and his family returned to Glasgow in straitened circumstances. A final but unsuccessful attempt to re-establish a career appears to have been made with an exhibition of the McNairs’ work at the Baillie Gallery, London. No work by McNair after that date is known. Following Frances Macdonald’s death in 1921, he destroyed much of her work, and subsequently lived in Argyllshire where he died in 1955. Other examples of his work are held by the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, and the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool. There is little published information currently available, except for an early article by Roger Billcliffe in the Walker Art Gallery Annual Bulletin, 1970-1. An exhibition of the McNairs’ work was held at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, in the summer of 2006, subsequently touring to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool from January to April 2007.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Frances Macdonald’s achievements are less well known than those of her sister, Margaret Macdonald. In part this is due to the loss of much of her work, destroyed by her husband, Herbert McNair, after her death, and in part to the fact that she left Glasgow in 1899. Nonetheless she produced some of the most powerful imagery of the Glasgow Style, and her late symbolist watercolours are moving meditations on the choices facing women. Frances was born in England and moved to Glasgow with her family by 1890. She enrolled as a student at Glasgow School of Art where she met Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert McNair. In the mid 1890s Frances left the School and set up an independent studio in the city centre with her sister, Margaret Macdonald. Together they collaborated on metalwork, graphics, textile designs and book illustrations, exhibiting in London, Liverpool and Venice. Following her marriage in 1899 to Herbert McNair she joined him in Liverpool where McNair was by then teaching at the School of Architecture and Applied Art. The couple designed the interiors of their home at 54 Oxford Street and exhibited a Writing Room at the International Exhibition of Modern Art, Turin. Macdonald also started teaching, and developed skills in jewellery, enamelwork and embroidery. The closure of the School in the early 1900s led to a gradual decline in their careers, compounded by the loss of the McNair family wealth through business failures. The couple returned to Glasgow around 1909. It was in the following years that Macdonald painted a moving series of symbolist watercolours addressing themes related to marriage and motherhood. She died in Glasgow in 1921. For further information consult ed. Jude Burkhauser, ‘Glasgow Girls’, Canongate Press, 1990 and Janice Helland, ‘The Studios of Frances Macdonald and Margaret Macdonald’, Manchester University Press, 1995. An exhibition of the McNairs’ work was held at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, in the summer of 2006, subsequently touring to the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool from January to April 2007.

Name of creator


Biographical history

Margaret Macdonald was one of the most gifted and successful women artists in Scotland at the turn of the century. Her output was wide-ranging and included watercolours, graphics, metalwork and textiles. Arguably her greatest achievements were in gesso, a plaster-based medium, which she used to make decorative panels for furniture and interiors. Macdonald was born in England and came to Glasgow with her family around 1890. She enrolled as a day student at Glasgow School of Art where she met Mackintosh and Herbert McNair. She left the School in the mid 1890s and set up an independent studio in the city with her sister, Frances. Margaret Macdonald The sisters worked together until Frances’s marriage and departure for Liverpool in 1899. Mackintosh and Macdonald married in 1900. Collaboration was key to Margaret Macdonald’s creativity. The partnership with her sister in the 1890s produced metalwork, graphics, and a series of book illustrations. Her collaboration with Mackintosh comprised primarily the production of panels for interiors and furniture, notably for the tea rooms and The Hill House. The precise nature of their partnership is difficult to define, because little documentation survives. However it is certain that Macdonald played an important role in the development of the decorative, symbolic interiors of the early 1900s, including the House for an Art Lover portfolio, the Rose Boudoir, Turin and the Willow Tea Rooms. Ill health and the strain of Mackintosh’s declining career contributed to a decline in her own output and no work after 1921 is known. Macdonald died in London in 1933, five years after her husband.

Archival history

Exhibited: Arts and Crafts, London,1895; McLellan Galleries, Glasgow, 1933; Fine Art Society, Glasgow, 1983; Hunterian Art Gallery; Glasgow, 1983; Currently on a long term loan to Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow, for Mackintosh House.

Custodial history

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh; William Davidson; Cameron Davidson. Acquired through The Davidson Bequest. Presented by Cameron Davidson, 1963; received from the Misses Davidson, 1981. The Davidson Bequest to GSA included the request that the mirror be loaned to Glasgow University so that it could hang in its old position in the reconstructed Southpark Avenue flat (now the Mackintosh House).

Physical Description and Conditions of Use

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Language and script notes

Physical Description

Beaten lead frame on wooden backing

Dimensions: 1092 x 1092 x 50 mm

Finding aids

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Existence and location of copies

Related materials

The Studio XI, 1897, p.234

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Administrative Information

Description identifier

GB 1694 MC/A/14

Institution identifier

GB 1694

Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description - Second edition


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