The Hunterian receives ‘Girl with Butterflies’ on behalf of the nation

Published: 10 December 2021

'Girl with Butterflies', a rare watercolour by Frances Macdonald McNair, has been acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme.

Girl with Butterflies, a rare watercolour by Frances Macdonald McNair, has been acquired for the nation through the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, which is administered by the Arts Council, and allocated to The Hunterian, University of Glasgow.

Frances McNair, Girl with ButterfliesFrances Macdonald McNair is known for being one of The Four, an important group of artists who met as students at the Glasgow School of Art and made a significant impact on the Art Nouveau style at the turn of the 20th century. The group included the artist’s sister Margaret Macdonald, Margaret's future husband Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Herbert McNair, whom Frances would later marry. The Four worked across many different areas of design including jewellery, architecture, metalwork, illustration, stained glass, textiles, interiors and poster design.

Butterflies are a recurring motif in the work of Frances and her husband Herbert. Girl with Butterflies is one of a series of symbolist watercolours by the artist of which only a small number survive. Only 42 were traced by Pamela Robertson in 2006 when she curated an exhibition about the McNairs (where Girl with Butterflies was displayed) at The Hunterian in Glasgow and the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Girl with Butterflies has remained in the same family for nearly 120 years and retains its distinctive original frame. Allocation of this work to The Hunterian provides a great resource for the University of Glasgow, greatly enriching its existing collection of textiles, textile designs, metalwork, bookplates and drawings by this important artist.

This acquisition is included in the Arts Council’s Cultural Gifts Scheme and Acceptance in Lieu Annual Report 2020-21, published today. Despite challenges the museum sector has faced during the pandemic, the Arts Council can reveal that over the past year objects - paintings, archives, and items of cultural importance - worth £54 million were accepted for the nation and allocated to museums across the UK.

This eclectic range of objects encompassing paintings, sculptures, archives and even a steam locomotive have been allocated to public collections across the United Kingdom, where they will be available for generations to come.

Arts Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

"The Acceptance in Lieu and Cultural Gifts Schemes exist to save important cultural objects for the nation, giving everyone an opportunity to see them on display.

"It's wonderful that so many fascinating works have been acquired through the scheme and I'm delighted that the vast majority have gone to institutions outside of London, benefiting museums, galleries and people across the country."

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said:

“This report marks 10 years of the Arts Council’s administration of these schemes, which both play a vital role in ensuring that communities across the nation can enjoy cultural treasures close to where they live. During these years, a diverse array of unusual and exceptional items has entered public collections throughout the U.K, offering lasting inspiration to all for years to come.

“I am, as ever, grateful to the Acceptance in Lieu Panel, and its Chair, Edward Harley, who – despite challenges faced due to the pandemic – have worked hard to ensure that galleries and museums across the country benefit from these two important schemes.”

Edward Harley, Chair, Acceptance in Lieu, said:

“I am grateful to all those who have contributed to ensuring that culturally significant objects continue to enter public collections despite the pandemic.

“As the report reflects, an exciting and diverse range of objects has been saved for all to enjoy; we are particularly excited that this year, the schemes have delivered their first-ever joint allocations and that items allocated outside London account for 81% of the total tax settled. These acquisitions will be a continued cause for celebration and community engagement and will benefit all regions of the U.K. for years to come.”

Image: Frances Macdonald McNair, Girl with Butterflies, c.1902. 

Notes to Editors

The acceptance of this watercolour settled £42,000 of tax.

You can download the full report from the Arts Council website - N.B this link will be live from 00.01am Friday 10 December 2021

The Acceptance in Lieu scheme is administered by the Arts Council. The Acceptance in Lieu Panel, chaired by Edward Harley OBE, advises on whether property offered in lieu is of suitable importance and offered at a value which is fair to both nation and taxpayer. AIL allows those who have a bill to Inheritance Tax to pay the tax by transferring important cultural, scientific or historic objects to the nation. Material accepted under the scheme is allocated to public collections and is available for all.

Read more about the Cultural Gifts Scheme

Read more about Acceptance in Lieu

The Hunterian is the oldest public museum in Scotland and at the forefront of university museums around the world, with collections spanning arts, sciences and humanities. Since it opened at the University of Glasgow in 1807, The Hunterian has been an invaluable academic and community resource and for years to come, is committed to becoming a more meaningful place for more diverse audiences.

Our contemporary art programme responds to and interacts with The Hunterian collections, spaces and histories to make new connections and to reflect people, ideas and stories.

The Hunterian collection’s Enlightenment history is a repository of knowledge that materialises the problematic history of Western modernity and its fundamentally colonial and capitalist underpinnings. This suggests a role for contemporary art as an interrogation of modern power and structures.

The fact that The Hunterian is a university gallery / museum creates space for intellectual inquiry and a process of learning and experimentation. As one of the few purpose-built art galleries in Glasgow - a city renowned for its large art community - The Hunterian offers a space in which work by emerging local artists and more established international practitioners can be exhibited to wide and diverse audiences, creating space for connection, reflection and experimentation

Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. We have set out our strategic vision in Let's Create that by 2030 we want England to be a country in which the creativity of each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone of us has access to a remarkable range of high quality cultural experiences. We invest public money from Government and The National Lottery to help support the sector and to deliver this vision. 

Following the Covid-19 crisis, the Arts Council developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90% coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support. We are also one of the bodies administering the Government's unprecedented £1.96 billion Culture Recovery Funds. Find out more at 


First published: 10 December 2021