Spotlight on Gallery 7: John Herbert MacNair – ‘Ysighlu’ (1895)

Art Sheds Collections, Art Sheds History, Art Sheds Teachers, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including pieces which she considers reflect the time and spirit of the Art Sheds and the professors and artists who taught there. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

Ysighlu - John Herbet McNair

“As a gilder, I was immediately drawn to this striking image.  The contrasting blue tones and delicate execution of the female form is very striking.  When the work first appeared in the Aesthetic movements iconic ‘Yellow Book’, which at that time was edited by Audrey Beardsley, it carried MacNair’s subtitle, ‘The very shadows in the cave worshipped her.  The little waves threw themselves at her feet. And kissed them’.

“MacNair came from a wealthy Scottish family and initially trained as an architect though he went on to make and design glass, metalwork furniture, jewellery, textiles as well as 2-D posters and wallpapers.  In the same year as ‘Ysighlu’ was made MacNair showed work at the inaugural art Nouveau Salon in Paris.

“John MacNair was a gifted artist and designer. However the closure of the Art Sheds and a subsequent family bankruptcy proved to be downward turning point in MacNair’s career.  In 1911 exhibition of his and Francis Macdonald’s paintings were exhibited for the last time.  Tragically McNair died in obscurity in 1955.”


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