Fiona MacCarthy

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.

Early life and education

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, 1st Baronet, 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.

She was educated at Wycombe Abbey School.[1] In 1958, she was a debutante (presented to the Queen at Queen Charlotte's Ball), the final year of this 200-year-old ritual, an experience she recounts in her 2007 memoir, Last Curtsey: the End of the Debutantes.[2] 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,[3] 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.[2] 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),[4] 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.[5] 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. Her most recent work is a life of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus was published in March 2019.


  • 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)
  • 2019 Walter Gropius: Visionary Founder of the Bauhaus (ISBN 978-0-571-29513-5)


She has curated the following exhibitions:


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