The "new woman" in fin-de-siécle art: Frances and Margaret MacDonald




Helland, Janice Valerie

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Scottish artists Margaret and Frances Macdonald produced their most innovative art during the last decade of the nineteenth century. They received their training at the Glasgow School of Art and became known for their contribution to "the Glasgow Style," Scotland's answer to Continental Art nouveau and Symbolism. Although they inherited their visual vocabulary from the male-dominated language of the fin-de-siècle, they produced representations of women that differed from those made by their male colleagues. I suggest that these representations were informed by the female experience and that they must be understood as such if we, as historians, are to discuss their art. Like many other women artists from this period, the Macdonalds relied heavily upon so-called feminine imagery. This could be flower painting, "dainty" landscapes, pictures of children or pictures of "lovely" women. The Macdonalds strayed from conventional meaning, however, and made pictures of women that, while retaining the mystery of symbolism, presented the viewer with contextually accurate representations of women who were bound and restricted by a society that had not yet allowed women the vote. I suggest that these representations be considered in the light of recent theoretical developments in feminist literary criticism and feminist film theory which give credence to women as producers of culture while remaining aware that culture is a patriarchal construction. My contention is that if we can comprehend the patriarchal construct of woman during the fin-de-siècle then we may be able to understand how the Macdonalds (and other women like them) strayed from this representation and made their own images (perhaps in their own likeness or at least in the likeness of their situation). Knowledge about how women's experience was integrated into the visual language may lead us to a greater understanding of that experience and its subsequent production as art and, in addition, may bring about a greater valuation of women's experience and its representation.



Art nouveau, Scotland, Women in art, Women artists, Scotland