Photogravure portrait of Frau Muthesius by James Craig Annan, acquired by the Hunterian in 2019 with an NFA grant of £225.
Singer, author, champion of artistic dress – Anna Muthesius (1870–1961) was a multi-talented modern woman. Her beauty and elegance are brilliantly captured in this photogravure portrait.
Born Anna Trippenbach in what is now Saxony-Anhalt, she married the German architect Hermann Muthesius (1861-1927), who became cultural attaché at the German embassy in London. Anna was an important artistic figure in her own right. Through Hermann’s research into modern British architecture, the couple became good friends of the Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and his artist wife Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (1864-1933). Mackintosh was godfather to their son, Friedrich Eckart, and the two couples corresponded and stayed as guests at each other’s houses. On one visit, Mackintosh left behind a pair of socks – Anna Muthesius said she knew they must be his because ‘they could only belong to some beautiful Scottish legs’!
Surviving letters show that Anna and Hermann planned to stay with the Mackintoshes in Glasgow in June 1903, and it may have been on this occasion that Frau Muthesius visited the Sauchiehall Street studio of portrait photographer James Craig Annan (1864–1946). In the same year, she published a book, Das Eigenkleid der Frau (Woman’s Own Dress), where she argued that clothing should be adapted to the individual wearer and that women should design their own clothes and not be dictated to by Paris fashions. It seems likely, therefore, that the feathered hat and high-collared cape in Annan’s portrait were designed – and perhaps even made – by Frau Muthesius herself.
Annan had an international reputation as a photographer. His work was exhibited in Europe and America, and a number of his images – including this one – were published in the important photographic journal Camera Work. Photogravure is a printing process that involves etching a photographic image onto metal and then taking an impression from the inked plate. The result has a soft, rich, velvety quality, rather like a charcoal drawing. Annan learned the process from Karel Klic (1841-1926), in Vienna in 1883, and became one of its leading exponents.
Annan’s portrait of Frau Muthesius joins a small group of related items in the Hunterian’s collection. Among these is Mackintosh’s design for a silver fork and spoon, made as a gift for his godson Friedrich Eckart Muthesius in 1904.
Also in the collection is a monochrome photograph of a lost painting of Frau Muthesius by Francis Newbery (1855-1946). More informal than Annan’s studio-based portrait, it shows her bending over her sewing. Recalling this painting in 1962, Newbery’s daughter described the sitter as ‘exotically beautiful’ and remembered that she was wearing a ‘green and blue Javanese wax print – a real innovation’. The Annan portrait is an equally memorable image of this exceptional woman, who expressed her personality through her remarkable clothes.
Curator of Mackintosh Collections
The Hunterian, University of Glasgow