The Macdonald Sisters: How They Visually Created Equality Between Men and Women

By Claire E. Jones
2011, Vol. 3 No. 09 | pg. 3/3 |

It would almost seem that these two images are mixed up. Margaret’s is more like Frances’ style, and vice versa. Yet it is the content that makes each Ophelia characteristic of each sister. Margaret shows Ophelia as fin-de-siècle viewed her; as a subversive female figure. The public approved of Ophelia as dead, because then she lost all of her phallic power and was thus a victim of castration. If Ophelia was alive, as Frances has depicted her, she still threatened the established social and gender roles. She served as a constant reminder that the expectations derived from the virgin/whore dichotomy are thoroughly and utterly unreasonable. And that maybe the gender roles, so heavily enforced into the twentieth century, were unwarranted and unfair. Frances infuses her Ophelia with a life force that has the possibility to obliterate the survival of traditional gender roles.

Margaret and Frances Macdonald embodied the “new woman” of fin-de-siècle because, through their art, they attempted to become phallic women. The power of the phallus provided them with an autonomous existence. Not only were they educated and raised to be independent, professional artists, they continued this power through their art. Their respective artworks challenged the status quo in an effort to provide femininity and motherhood with the respect of the phallus. Their androgynous figures, and eventual phallic maternal figures, were the perfect balance between the feminine and the masculine. Thus the women they depicted possessed an equality, if not superiority, to men.


Figures

Fig. 1 La Mort Parfumee Margaret Macdonald, 1921
Figure 1

Fig. 2 The May Queen Margaret Macdonald, 1900
Figure 2

Fig. 3 Panel on desk Margaret Macdonald, 1902
Figure 3

Fig. 4 Pond Frances Macdonald, 1894
Figure 4

Fig. 5 Girl and Butterflies Frances Macdonald, 1907
Figure 5

Fig.6 Ill Omen Frances Macdonald, 1893
Figure 6

Fig.7 Prudence and Desire Frances Macdonald, 1912-15
Figure 7

Fig.8 GSA Poster Margaret & Frances Macdonald, 1900
Figure 8

Fig.9 Spring Frances Macdonald, 1897
Figure 9

Fig.10 Winter Margaret Macdonald, 1898
Figure 10

Fig.11 Ophelia Margaret Macdonald, 1908
Figure 11

Fig.12 Ophelia Frances Macdonald, 1898
Figure 12


Footnotes

1.) Helland, Janice. The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald. Manchester University Press; Manchester & New York (1996).

2.) Helland, Janice. “Glasgow Style.” Oxford Art Online. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T032760?…

3.) Chilvers, Ian. “Glasgow Four.” A Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Art. Oxford University Press, 1999.

4.) Vigué, Jordi. Great Women Masters of Art. Waston-Guptill Publications; New York, pg. 321-324 & 341-346 (2002).

5.) Helland, Janice. The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald. Manchester University Press; Manchester & New York (1996).

6.) Vigué, Jordi. Great Women Masters of Art. Waston-Guptill Publications; New York, pg. 321-324 & 341-346 (2002).

7.) Simpson, Pamela H. “The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald [review]”. Woman’s Art Journal; vol.19 no.1, pg. 44-45 (Spring-Summer 1998).

8.) Robertson, Pamela R.. “Macdonald”. Oxford Art Online. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T052754?…

9.) Helland, Janice. “Frances Macdonald: The Self as Fin-de-Siecle Woman”. Woman’s Art Journal; vol.14 no.1, pg. 15-22 (Spring-Summer 1993).

10.) Thompson, Jan. “The Role of Woman in the Iconography of Art Nouveau”. Art Journal; vol.31 no.2, pg. 158-167 (Winter 1971-72).

11.) Helland, Janice. The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald. Manchester University Press; Manchester & New York (1996).

12.) Weltge, Sigrid W.. “ Women in Design: Will They Find Their Place in History?”. Women’s Studies Quarterly; vol. 15 no. ½, pg. 58-61 (Spring-Summer 1987).

13.) Robertson, Pamela R.. “Macdonald”. Oxford Art Online. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T052754?…

14.) Seddon, Jill. “Review: [untitled]”. Journal of Design History; vol.10 no.2, pg. 235-236 (1997).

15.) Helland, Janice. “Frances Macdonald: The Self as Fin-de-Siecle Woman”. Woman’s Art Journal; vol.14 no.1, pg. 15-22 (Spring-Summer 1993).

16.) Helland, Janice. “Frances Macdonald: The Self as Fin-de-Siecle Woman”. Woman’s Art Journal; vol.14 no.1, pg. 15-22 (Spring-Summer 1993).

17.) Simpson, Pamela H. “The Studios of Frances and Margaret Macdonald [review]”. Woman’s Art Journal; vol.19 no.1, pg. 44-45 (Spring-Summer 1998).

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