The Glasgow Girls were a group of women artists and designers active in Glasgow at the turn of the twentieth century.

Norah Neilson Gray Mother and Child 1920s

Glasgow: A Prosperous City

The late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries were a period of economic prosperity for Glasgow, with more money leading to greater commercial patronage for local artists. Glasgow developed as an important centre for avant-garde design and innovation in Europe, in a period known today as The Glasgow Style. Three important groups associated with the Glasgow Style today are The Glasgow Four, The Glasgow Boys and The Glasgow Girls, who all made vital contributions to the style.

The term Glasgow Girls was first made by William Buchanan in an essay for the Scottish Arts Council in 1968 that accompanied a Glasgow Boys exhibition, although his use of the term is seen today as an ironic reference rather than a real categorisation. In 1990 Jude Burkhauser organised the survey exhibition Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920, aimed at redressing the imbalanced historical preference for male artists, bringing to attention the hugely important role women played in the development of the Glasgow Style. 

Who were the Glasgow Girls?

Members included in the group are Bessie MacNicol, Margaret Macdonald, Helen Paxton Brown, Annie French, Jessie Marion King and Frances Macdonald. Fra Newbery, the head of Glasgow School of Art at the time is often credited for his contribution to this period of women’s enlightenment; he provided many opportunities for women to study or pursue teaching roles. The Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, founded in 1882, also provided a supportive platform for meeting and exhibiting work.

Styles and Influences

The Glasgow Girls members were various and covered a broad range of styles, from avant-garde design and decorative arts to watercolour and oil painting, drawing and needlework. Both the Glasgow Girls and the Glasgow Boys produced artworks that combined Celtic and Japanese influences in a style which became desirable across Europe.

Two of the most prominent Glasgow Girls were also members of The Glasgow Four – the sisters Margaret Macdonland Mackintosh and Frances Macdonald MacNair, who formed a coalition with their husbands Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert MacNair. Together they were instrumental in the Celtic Revival, the development of the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau’s distinctive Scottish brand, a style which is instantly recognisable today. Artists Annie French and Bessie MacNicol are also widely recognised today for their contributions to drawing, printing and painting.

The Revival in the 1990s

Jude Burkhauser’s survey exhibition Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design 1880-1920 in 1990 raised awareness of the ways women’s vital contribution to the Glasgow Style had been historically overlooked, while many museums and galleries are now aiming to redress this balance by avidly collecting works of art and design by women artists and makers. The influences of their Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styling continues to be felt internationally today, in the work of many artists and designers.


Glossary terms

  • The Glasgow Boys were a loose group of young artists that represented the beginnings of modernism in Scottish painting. In the early 1880s, 'the boys’ were united by their disillusionment with traditional academic painting, with its strong focus on historical subjects and high levels of finish. Instead, they painted contemporary rural subjects, often working out of doors and painting directly onto the canvas.

  • A decorative art style popular in Europe and North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is characterised by stylised flowing lines of all kinds, most notably the distinctive “whiplash” curve, which was used to illustrate many forms including tendrils, plant stems, flames, waves and flowing hair.

  • British movement of the late nineteenth century which sought to revive handcrafts and improve design in an age of increasing mass-production. Key thinkers associated with the movement are William Morris and John Ruskin.