‘Glasgow Four’ artworks in the spotlight

Yellow Tulips, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture: Esme Allen
Yellow Tulips, by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Picture: Esme Allen
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In 2008, a work from the collection of two prominent American fans of the “Glasgow Style”, Donald and Eleanor Taffner, sold for £1.7 million, a record price for a Scottish work of art.

Four years on from the sale of The White Rose and the Red Rose, by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, key items from the rest of the couple’s collection are being sold off by their children. They range from furniture and watercolours by Charles Rennie Mackintosh to paintings by 
artist Frances Macdonald.

Donald Taffner and his wife and business partner Eleanor worked as television agents and producers and found success bringing British shows 
including Three’s Company and The Benny Hill Show to the US market. At the same time, they emerged as art collectors with a passion for the works of the “Glasgow Four” artists, including Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, her sister Frances Macdonald, and her husband, Herbert MacNair.

Donald Taffner died in 
September 2011, about a year after his wife. Now about 100 items from their collection, formerly housed at their New York home, in Greenwich Village, are being sold by Edinburgh 
auctioneer Lyon & Turnbull.

The Taffners were drawn in by the sometimes sad stories of Mackintosh and his circle as well as their art, said Lyon & Turnbull director John Mackie.

MacNair became an alcoholic after his family’s fortunes turned sour, and after Frances Macdonald died in 1921 – officially from a cerebral haemorrhage but in what was rumoured to be a 
suicide – he burned both her paintings and his own.

The dreamy, haunted quality of paintings such as Sleep, with their shrouded, swaying figures of women and children, saw the work of the Glasgow Four dubbed the “Spook School”. In the sale 
catalogue Mr Mackie writes “Sleep almost certainly reflects the troubled mind and life of a woman who has juggled 
elements of wife, mother, daughter, sister, artist, teacher, and no longer wishes to continue the struggle”.

The painting is estimated to fetch £30,000-£50,000 in the auction, taking place in early September. Another of Macdonald’s classic pictures, Girl with Blue Butterflies, has an estimated price of £60,000-£80,000.

Other highlights include Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s watercolour Yellow Tulips, first shown in 1933, which has an estimate of £100,000-£150,000. Mackintosh turned to painting later in life after his design and architecture work dried up, despite the construction of his famous architectural masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art.

In 2008, the Laffners sold The White Rose and the Red Rose, a panel painted by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, which was bought by another American collector, Max Palevsky, for £1.7 million, the highest auction price for a Scottish artwork.

The Taffners’ son, Donald, said: “They were inspired by the story of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Four and the struggle for success.

“I think they enjoyed learning about the movement, the city and its people and wanted to own a part of it.

“After my parents’ death my sister and I took a long hard look at the collection and we both decided it needed to be loved and cherished. We both hope whoever buys them will love them as much as my parents did.”