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Fiona MacCarthy

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Name  Fiona MacCarthy

Role  Biographer
Fiona MacCarthy A life in writing Fiona MacCarthy Books The Guardian

Books  The Last Pre‑Raphaelite: Edward B, Byron, William Morris: A Life for O, Anarchy & Beauty: William M, Last Curtsey
Similar People  David Mellor, Deyan Sudjic, William Morris

James Tait Black Prize winners give their reaction to the awards

Fiona MacCarthy, OBE (born 23 January 1940) is a British biographer and cultural historian best known for her studies of 19th and 20th century art and design.


Fiona MacCarthy The winners of the James Tait Black prizes Britains oldest

Early life and education

Fiona MacCarthy Amazoncouk Fiona McCarthy Books Biogs Audiobooks Discussions

Fiona MacCarthy was born into an upper-class background, from which she spent much of her life escaping. Her father, an army officer, was killed in the Second World War when she was a child of three. She was brought up in London. Her grandmother, the Baroness de Belabre, was a daughter of Sir Robert McAlpine who built and owned the Dorchester Hotel and much of her childhood was spent in the hotel. The concrete construction of the Dorchester was said to make it bomb-proof and her family to refuge there during The Blitz.

Fiona MacCarthy Fiona MacCarthy The last debutante The Independent

She was educated at Wycombe Abbey School. In 1958, she was a debutante (presented to the Queen), the final year of this 200-year-old ritual, an experience she recounts in her 2007 memoir, Last Curtsey: the End of the Debutantes. She was one of only four of that year's debutantes to go on to university, in her case studying for a degree in English Literature at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.


She began her career on The Guardian in the 1960s as a features writer and columnist before becoming a biographer and critic. She came to wider attention as a biographer with a once controversial study of the Roman Catholic craftsman and sculptor Eric Gill first published in 1989. MacCarthy is known for her arts essays and reviews, appearing regularly in The Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement and The New York Review of Books. She has contributed to TV and radio arts programmes.

Personal life

Her first marriage ended in divorce. In 1966 she married the Sheffield-based silversmith and cutlery designer David Mellor. She first met him when she went to interview him for The Guardian. They had two children Corin and Clare, both of whom have now become designers. After suffering for some years from dementia, David Mellor died in May 2009.

Awards and honours

Fiona MacCarthy is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (1997), an Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow of the Royal College of Art.

She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for services to literature in the 2009 Birthday Honours. She holds honorary doctorates from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University and was awarded the Bicentenary Medal of the Royal Society of Arts.

Her 1994 biography William Morris: A Life for our Time was winner of the Wolfson History Prize and the Writers' Guild Non-fiction Award. The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination won the 2012 James Tait Black prize for Biography. She is now writing a life of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus.


  • 1972 All Things Bright and Beautiful: British Design 1830 to Today
  • 1981 The Simple Life: C. R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds
  • 1984 The Omega Workshops: Decorative Arts of Bloomsbury
  • 1989 Eric Gill (ISBN 0-571-13754-7)
  • 1994 William Morris: A Life for our Time (ISBN 0-394-58531-3)
  • 1997 Stanley Spencer: An English Vision (ISBN 978-0300073379)
  • 2002 Byron: Life and Legend (ISBN 0-7195-5621-X)
  • 2007 Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes (ISBN 0-571-22859-3)
  • 2011 The Last Pre-Raphaelite: Edward Burne-Jones and the Victorian Imagination (ISBN 978-0-571-22861-4)
  • Exhibitions

    She has curated the following exhibitions:

  • Homespun to Highspeed: British Design 1860 to 1960 for Sheffield Museums and Art Galleries, 1979
  • The Omega Workshops: Decorative Arts of Bloomsbury for the Crafts Council, 1984
  • Eye for Industry: retrospective of the Royal Designers for the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1986
  • Byron for the National Portrait Gallery, 2002
  • Anarchy and Beauty, William Morris and his Legacy for the National Portrait Gallery, 2014
  • References

    Fiona MacCarthy Wikipedia

    Similar Topics
    David Mellor
    Deyan Sudjic
    William Morris