Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo Biography

The Early Life of Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo

Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo was born in 1851, the year of the Great Exhibition, the son of a wealthy chemicals manufacturer who showcased his goods there. He was educated at Felsted School in Essex and began his architectural career under T. Chatfield Clarke before joining the office of James Brooks. Mackmurdo greatly valued the methodical thoroughness exemplified by Brooks. In 1873, he attended lectures by John Ruskin at Oxford and drawing classes Ruskin ran, which had an enormous influence on the young Mackmurdo. The following year, he traveled with Ruskin to Italy, where Florence's Renaissance art was a revelation to him, igniting a lifelong passion that sowed the seeds of Art Nouveau.

Mackmurdo's Career and Artistic Ventures

In 1877, Mackmurdo met William Morris through the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, further inspiring his interest in the applied arts. He established his architectural practice at 28 Southampton Street, London, and in 1882 founded 'The Century Guild.' The Guild aimed to elevate all branches of art from the realm of tradesmen to that of artists, aspiring to restore the dignity of building decoration, glass painting, pottery, woodcarving, and metalwork. Mackmurdo's associates in this venture included Herbert Horne, Selwyn Image, Heywood Sumner, and others. The Guild produced furniture, stained glass, metalwork, lighting, fabrics, and wallpaper, including the magazine 'The Hobby Horse', first published in 1884.

Mackmurdo's Recognition and Later Life

The Guild first appeared at the Inventions Exhibition in London in 1885, but fame and recognition came after exhibiting at the Liverpool International Exhibition in 1886. Mackmurdo's notable design work included the Savoy Hotel, a house in Chelsea for Mortimer Menpes, and interiors at Pownall Hall, Cheshire. At 51, he married Eliza D'Oyly Carte and moved to Wickam Bishops in Essex, where he built his home, Great Ruffins. He retired at 55 and later focused on social reform, living to the age of 91.

Mackmurdo as a Precursor of Art Nouveau

Mackmurdo's 1882 chair design, with conventional framing and twisting foliage in an Art Nouveau style, established him as a precursor to the movement. His work was known to the Belgian avant-garde group Les XX and influenced Art Nouveau's emergence in furniture design, architecture, metalwork, lighting, ceramics, and glass across Europe. For images of Mackmurdo's chair and other designs, see Jeremy Cooper's 'Victorian and Edwardian Furniture and Interiors' and the Bedford Lemere archive at the National Monuments Record.

Researched and written by Tony Geering.

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