Das Eigenkleid der Frau and Artistic Dress

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We are thrilled to have been able to replace through private sale one of the more important volumes lost in the Mackintosh Library fire, thanks to a generous grant from the Friends of the National Libraries. The Friends is a registered charity founded in 1931. Its purpose is to help libraries in the United Kingdom acquire rare and valuable books, manuscripts and archives that might otherwise leave the country.

In 1903 Anna Muthesius published the influential Das Eigenkleid der Frau, It is regarded as a seminal text in the development of early twentieth-century dress, and is particularly associated with the Artistic Dress movement. Artistic Dress describes clothing that was produced for everyday use, designed in accordance with contemporary art principles, intended to challenge fashion, and considered a work of art in itself. Emphasis was therefore placed on the rejection of the heavy, restrictive Victorian fashions of the day.

The movement was also political in its aims, and part of wider societal moves to liberate women in both the public and private spheres.

The book holds particular importance for the history of GSA. It bears an original Art Nouveau binding designed by artist Frances Macdonald McNair (1874-1921). This comprises black printed letters and Glasgow Style decoration to front, with green ribbons cut-through to the top and bottom of both the front and back boards. Frances Macdonald is an important figure in the history of GSA. Along with her husband James Herbert McNair (1868-1955), her sister Margaret Macdonald (1865-1933), and Margaret’s husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), she was an active member of the so-called ‘Glasgow Four’ who between them developed the Glasgow Style aesthetic that is so connected to the School of Art. All four artists attended lessons in the School. The decorative linear design to the front binding incorporates the stylised rounded female figures and roses that were characteristic of McNair’s work in the early 1900s, particularly her embroideries.

The text is complemented by portrait photographs of Frances, her sister Margaret, and the author Anna Muthesius (1870-1961). Muthesius was the wife of the German architectural writer Hermann Muthesius (1861-1927), who was good friends with all the Glasgow Four and had done much to promote the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to European audiences by featuring it prominently in his seminal Das Englische Baukunst der Gegenwart in 1900. The Schools also holds a copy of this volume in its rare books collection.

The book also includes a further photograph of two dresses designed by Jessie M. King (1875-1949), who studied and subsequently taught at GSA. A further photograph shows dresses designed by Jessie Rowat Newbery (1864-1948) and modelled by her daughters, Elsie and Mary. Jessie Rowat Newbery was born in 1864 to a Paisley shawl manufacturer who subscribed to radical politics and who fully supported education for women. She attended Glasgow School of Art from 1884-1888, marrying its Headmaster Francis Newbery in 1889. She later taught at the School, establishing embroidery classes in 1894. Her avant-garde milieu, textiles training and radical politics meant that she found a perfect outlet in the Artistic Dress movement.

Only 2 other copies of Das Eigenkleid are held in the UK: at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Library of Scotland.

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