In the early 1890s an informal creative alliance was formed between four students at Glasgow School of Art: the apprentice architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and J. Herbert McNair, and the day students, the English sisters, Margaret Macdonald and Frances Macdonald. Working independently and collaboratively they created some of the most innovative and provocative graphic and decorative art designs of the period. Their work was exhibited in Liege, Paris, London, Venice and elsewhere, and notably published in The Studio magazine and The Yellow Book. This attention helped to identify Glasgow as a distinctive artistic centre, and contributed to the recognition of a ‘Glasgow Style’ of decorative and interior design.
In 1899 McNair and Frances Macdonald married and Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald married the following year. With the McNairs established in Liverpool by 1899, the collaborative links were broken, with the one exception of the major Scottish presence at the 1902 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art in Turin, where each couple exhibited an important room installation.