When Sir Charles Reilly was appointed Roscoe Professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool in 1904, Herbert MacNair had already been teaching there for six years. MacNair's early career in Glasgow at the architectural offices of Honeyman and Keppie had not provided the same springboard for development and patronage as it had for his friend and fellow apprentice Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and his appointment in 1898 as Instructor in Design at the School of Architecture and Applied Art at University College must have given him renewed hope for his artistic future.
A strong aesthetic sympathy ran between MacNair and his wife Frances (née Macdonald), whom he married in 1899. He and Mackintosh had met the Macdonald sisters whilst studying at the Glasgow School of Art, and although the gifted young artists were later grouped as 'The Glasgow Four', MacNair's own style always remained particularly attuned to the mystic and sometimes sinister work of the Macdonald sisters. The watercolours in this and the following lot show at the same time a distinctness of individual style together with a common evocation of legend or fable, and incorporate the subjects of children and birds which recur almost as signature motifs in the MacNairs' work.
During their years in Liverpool, Frances and Herbert MacNair were frequent exhibitors at the Liverpool Academy and the Sandon Studios Society. The descriptions and titles of these exhibits, many of which remain untraced, do not appear to match the present two works, and it would therefore seem likely that they are both previously unrecorded examples of the work of these two important Scottish artists.
We are grateful to Edward Morris from the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool for his assistance in researching this catalogue entry.
For a detailed discussion of the work of Herbert MacNair, see: Roger Billcliffe, J. H. MacNair in Glasgow and Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery Annual Report and Bulletin, Vol. 1, 1970/71.