The Silver Apples of the Moon derives its title from 'The Song of Wandering Aengus' a poem by W.B. Yeats (1899). Aengus, while roaming through a hazel wood, drops a berry into a stream and catches a silver trout that metamorphoses into "a glimmering girl With apple blossom in her hair Who called me by my name and ran And faded through the brightening air". Aengus then wanders in search of his lost love stating "I will find out where she has gone And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among the long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun". The subject is akin to the Medieval courtly tradition and Romantic theme of quest - the hero in search of his love, which was favoured by Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Edward Burne-Jones.
Margaret and her husband, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, were frequently inspired by poetry, and like the work of European Symbolists, The Silver Apples of the Moon is full of paradoxes. The work conveys a sense of wakeful consciousness and soporific trance. The female figure appears to be an innocent bejeweled maiden, but juxtaposed with Aengus she is a femme fatale. The 'glimmering girl' is leading Aengus to an unknown destiny and the apple tree that encompasses them alludes to Eve in the Garden of Eden offering Adam the 'apple' or forbidden fruit. The two figures have human appearance but both the subject matter and the method of representation communicate a sense of the supernatural and metaphysical. Increasingly from 1910 Margaret favoured watercolour to gesso as a medium. It was ideally suited to her ethereal subjects and her subtle palette further emphasized the mysterious quality of her subjects.
The Silver Apples of the Moon (cat. no. 168, price 55) was exhibited together with The Mysterious Garden (cat. no. 240, price 25) and The Three Perfumes (cat. no. 88, price 45) at the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolours in Edinburgh in 1912. It was then shown in September the following year at the 52nd Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts Exhibition (cat. no. 532, price 65). The asking price for The Silver Apples of the Moon indicates the importance the artist attached to the work.