Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (5 November 1864 – 7 January 1933) was an artist and designer who helped shape the Glasgow Style. According to the Annual Reports of 1890-91 she studied courses in design at The Glasgow School of Art alongside her sister Frances, who was nine years her junior.
Early in their studies, the Macdonald sisters became part of a group of friends who were also studying at the school who called themselves ‘The Immortals’. In her 1990 book Glasgow Girls, Jude Burkhauser suggested that the self-styled moniker of this group may have been inspired by Celtic mysticism, but that it also might reference the kind of posterity usually reserved for male artists of the academic variety, which very few women got to enjoy. Their shared creative interest in Symbolist art and literature can most clearly be seen in their wonderful group effort The Magazine.
There is also a c1893 photo album in the papers of Jessie Keppie, comprised of a group of photos of the friends enjoying a sketching weekend at ‘The Roaring Camp’ in Dunure, the home of the architect John Keppie (for whom Mackintosh worked, and later became business partner). It includes a rather lovely image of the women from behind, as we imagine them joined together in sororal affection.
In the mid-1890s the Macdonald sisters opened their own art studio, producing a wide array of work from watercolour illustrations to embroidery, to beaten metal objets d’art. Mackintosh and McNair continued to work as architects and designers, but their relationships with the sisters clearly developed and grew, as McNair and Frances married in 1899, and Mackintosh and Macdonald followed suit in 1900.
After their marriage, Mackintosh became Macdonald’s sole collaborator; their friend Muthesius called them the Künstlerpaar – the ‘art couple’. Their most noteworthy projects included tearoom interiors for Catherine Cranston (1900 & 1903), a folio of plans for the Haus eines Kunstfreundes (House for an Art Lover) design competition (1901), and international exhibitions, such as the Eighth Vienna Secession (1900) and A Rose Boudoir at the Turin Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art (1902). GSA’s Archives and Collections holds records from this latter event, for which Francis Newbery and Mackintosh organised and curated the Scottish Pavilion. Related to the Turin exhibition are perhaps the most significant items by Macdonald in the GSA collection: a pair of embroidered panels; and a gesso panel entitled The Heart of the Rose, a duplicate of one shown in Turin.
Margaret Macdonald’s artistic output increasingly diminished from 1909, and we only know of some 140 documented works overall. For many years, her work was obscured by the relative fame of her husband, as well as patriarchal critical treatment that has, happily, been overturned in more recent scholarship.