Putting on the Glasgow Girl style: Rare chance to view work of Jessie M. King

An exhibition devoted to one of the best-loved members of The Glasgow Girls has opened its doors in Glasgow.

The Enchanted World of Jessie M. King presents 35 artworks by the popular artist, illustrator and designer, whose distinctive designs created a blueprint in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

King’s designs epitomised the Glasgow Style, which became famous across the globe in the early twentieth century as the vogue for Art Nouveau took hold across Europe. 

The exhibition,  at Lyon & Turnbull’s Glasgow gallery on Bath Street, runs until15 September. 

It brings together a mix of loans from private collections and includes four delicate watercolours which are for sale, and features drawings, watercolours, silver, jewellery, ceramics and books illustrated by King. 

The title of the show stems from an early phase of King’s career, when she created detailed pen and ink illustrations on translucent vellum paper.

The subject matter was often make-believe characters of fairyland drawn using tiny dotted lines.

These light, colourful and joyous illustrations became known as Jessie’s Enchanted World. 

King had a lifelong belief in fairies following an experience as a teenager, when she fell asleep on an Argyll hillside and claimed afterwards to have ‘felt the touch of fairies’.

Lyon & Turnbull associate director, James McNaught, who has curated the exhibition, said there is a growing demand for work by King.   

‘We held an exhibition of work by The Glasgow Girls last year and everyone asked about Jessie M. King,’ he said.

‘There is a real hunger for her work. That’s why we decided to stage this special exhibition, borrowing from collectors and also presenting a few beautiful watercolours for sale.

‘We are thrilled to be able to show a wide range of work by her which displays her virtuosity as both artist and designer.’

When King, a Bearsden-born daughter of the manse, enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) in 1892, she quickly became a key player in a new generation of progressive artists interested in developments in art and design under the direction of its director, Fra Newbery. 

She went on to become an internationally recognised artist, designing fabric for Liberty & Co and producing jewellery designs for the company’s Cymric silver line.

At the same time, she maintained a successful career as a sought-after illustrator of books, especially for children. During her lifetime, King illustrated more than 80 titles. 

She won a gold medal for a cover design in the Turin exhibition of Decorative Art in 1902 which propelled King into the centre of the European Avant-garde movement. 

King married Greenock-born Ernest Archibald Taylor, a designer and writer, in 1908 and the couple had a daughter, Merle, before moving to Paris in 1911.

There, Taylor worked as arts correspondent for The Studio, an influential arts magazine.

The couple quickly became part of a set of artists and Bohemians in the French capital, setting up their own art school, the Shealing Atelier. 

Some of King’s finest works belong to this Paris period, incorporating her pen and ink technique with vivid colours.

This work is considered by art historians as being influential in the creation of the Art Deco movement.

King and Taylor moved back to Scotland in 1915 following the outbreak of the First World War, setting up a small artists’ community in Kirkcudbright.

King continued to work in the town until her death in 1949.

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Plus, don’t miss the September issue of Scottish Field magazine.