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Frances Macdonald
(1873 – 1921)

Much of Frances’s story is entwined with that of her sister, Margaret, and husband Herbert McNair. From 1890, at the age of around 17 she attended the Glasgow School of Art with Margaret until 1894. Later they opened a studio in the city around 1896. In 1899 with her husband, she moved to Liverpool where she taught embroidery at the School of Architecture and Applied Arts. A year later she gave birth to a son which may have had an impact on her output. On returning to Glasgow she taught a range of classes at the School of Art from 1908 – including art needlework and embroidery design, enamels design and metalwork until 1911. Frances was a talented designer, watercolour painter and embroiderer, with a distinctive style. In her early designs she collaborated often with her sister, and later with her husband where they worked together on silverware, jewellery and furniture commissions. Her work on paper was often dark in tone and featured elongated, androgynous female forms and sexual imagery which would have been controversial at the time. 

Her work featured in many art magazines of time, particularly The Studio, and was exhibited widely. With her husband she exhibited at The Vienna Secession in 1900 and in Turin in 1902, where they received positive reviews. Frances died in 1921 at the early age of 48, possibly by her own hand. Examples of her work are very rare, mostly held in museums. Her husband is said to have destroyed much of her surviving work after her death.

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