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Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh is highly regarded as a notable artist and designer of gesso panels and metalwork. This Summer panel is an allegorical work in which a stylised Art Nouveau figure of a woman and four infants represent the fecundity and greenness of the season.

The panel is based upon an 1897 watercolour of the same name, now in Glasgow Museums, which is one of four depicting the four seasons completed by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and her sister Frances Macdonald MacNair between 1897 and 98. An earlier sketch for Summer dated 1893 is in the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. 

Gesso is a white material made from chalk or gypsum and bound with animal glue, it is known to have been used as far back as ancient Egypt where it provided a base for both painted wall panels and coffins. It was introduced as a subject at Glasgow School of Art in about 1889 by Francis Henry ‘Fra’ Newbery, who had been appointed as director of the school in 1885.

Summer Fact file



Designed and made by

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

Made in


Made from

Gesso, white wood.


Museum reference


On display

Design For Living gallery, Level 5, National Museum of Scotland 

Did you know?

The panel was most probably displayed in the drawing room at Dunglass Castle alongside a May Day decoration now lost and furniture and fittings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Dunglass Castle was home of Glasgow solicitor Charles Macdonald, who was the brother of Margaret and Frances.

Who was Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh?

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (5 November 1864 – 7 January 1933), is highly regarded as a notable artist and designer of gesso panels and metalwork.

Margaret and her sister Frances were day students at the Glasgow School of Art, where they met Charles Rennie Mackintosh and James Herbert MacNair.

The partnership with her sister in the 1890s produced metalwork, graphics, and a series of book illustrations. The sisters worked together until Frances’s marriage to James Herbert MacNair in 1899. On 22 August 1900, Margaret Macdonald married Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 

Creative collaboration

Husband and wife, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald were at the forefront of the Glasgow School style of art, design and architecture. 

The couple collaborated on many projects, although Margaret’s contribution is often less acknowledged. 

These collaborations, and the importance of the work and artistic vision of Margaret herself are now much more recognized by art and design historians. It is said that when the couple exhibited in 1900, it was Margaret who was feted by the Viennese.

Lead panel possibly by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, features as part of a Settle designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and made by J. & W. Guthrie, Glasgow, 1895. 

The Vienna Secession

The artists of the Vienna Secession were particularly drawn to the work of Macdonald and Mackintosh who, like their Viennese counterparts, believed strongly in the artistic ideal that there should be no division between fine art and decorative art and design.

In 1903, Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser set up an artists’ production company, the famous Wiener Werkstatte (Vienna’s Workshops). They cited the work of Macdonald and Mackintosh as the inspiration for their designs and architecture.

The Mackintosh room, Vienna Secession exhibition, 1900

Largely white, with gesso panels designed by Macdonald, the Mackintosh room was hugely popular with the members of the Vienna Secession. Macdonald and Mackintosh were feted by their hosts and were said to have been driven through the streets of Vienna in a rose-bedecked wagon.

Mackintosh Room at the Vienna Secession exhibition © Heidelberg University Library. C6050-26 Folio Res, page 385.

A private commission - the Waerndorfer music room

As a result of their work for the Vienna Secession Exhibition 1900 and also for the Turin Exhibition of in 1902, Mackintosh and Macdonald were commissioned to design a music room for the Viennese villa of Fritz Waerndorfer.

The centrepiece of the room was a three-part gesso frieze by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, which illustrated a scene from the play The Seven Princesses by the Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck. 

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