Rare Frances Macdonald McNair painting gifted to The Hunterian
With 2020 being such a bleak and colourless year, we are proud to announce that The Hunterian has just acquired a marvellous watercolour by Frances Macdonald McNair (1873–1921): Girl with Butterflies. It shows one of Macdonald’s mysterious, dream-like female figures, swathed in a billowing dress and veil, looking almost like a bride, attended by bees as well as butterflies.
Girl with Butterflies has an interesting origin. It was owned by Lady Helena Muspratt (1870–1943), wife of the Merseyside industrial chemist Max Muspratt (1872–1934) and daughter-in-law of Dr E. K. Muspratt (1833–1923), another important chemical manufacturer. The wealthy, cultured Muspratts were friends and supporters of the McNairs during their time in Liverpool, where Herbert became Instructor in Design at the School of Architecture and Applied Arts in 1898. When the School closed in 1905, Herbert began teaching at the independent Sandon Terrace Studios and the Muspratts were among the subscribers who guaranteed his salary. Girl with Butterflies may have been purchased privately by the Muspratts, they may have commissioned it, or maybe it was a gift to them from the artist. Sadly, we do not know.
In 2006–7, the watercolour was lent to The Hunterian’s Doves and Dreams exhibition, which showcased the work of Macdonald and her husband, Herbert McNair. At the time, the owner expressed the wish that it would one day join The Hunterian’s permanent collection and following her death, her son generously offered it under the Acceptance in Lieu scheme.
Unfortunately, Macdonald’s known watercolours are not numerous – Pamela Robertson’s Doves and Dreams catalogue lists about 62 recorded examples, of which she was able to trace only 42 in 2006 – so this new acquisition is a rarity. It greatly enriches our collection of textiles, textile designs, metalwork, bookplates and drawings by this important artist.
We are enormously grateful to be able to add this beautiful watercolour to our collection of works by Frances Macdonald McNair and welcome back a flash of new colour into the end of 2020.
Image: Frances Macdonald McNair, Girl with Butterflies, c.1902.
First published: 30 November 2020