Mackintosh, Charles Rennie

views updated Jun 11 2018

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie (1868–1928). Scots architect, interior designer, and water-colourist, he worked mostly in and around Glasgow. In 1889 he joined Honeyman & Keppie and studied at the Glasgow School of Art. In 1891 he travelled in Italy, and in the following year, with Margaret (1865–1933) and Frances (1874–1921) Macdonald and Herbert J. McNair (1868–1955), began to produce water-colours, posters, and artefacts. The friends became known as ‘The Four’, ‘The Mac Group’, the Glasgow School, or the ‘Spook School’ (the last because of the attenuated femme-fleur, long tendrils, rose-balls, and other slightly sinister elements that were an integral part of their Art Nouveau-inspired style). In 1897 they gained recognition in The Studio, which made their work known to the avant-garde in America, Austria, and Germany.

Mackintosh's first built work for Honeyman & Keppie seems to have been the tower of the Glasgow Herald Building, Mitchell Street, Glasgow (1893). This was followed by Queen Margaret's Medical College (1894–6) and the Martyrs' Public School (1895), both essentially traditionally constructed, but in a free style. Mackintosh began to draw on Scottish vernacular buildings for his inspiration, often looking to medieval tower-houses and fortified dwellings (which he misnamed Scottish Baronial) for his themes. His sources were not exclusively Scottish, however, and in later buildings his eclecticism ranged more widely. In essence, Mackintosh was an Arts-and-Crafts designer who used Art Nouveau decorative devices, but always employed traditional forms of construction of his native land.

In 1896 Honeyman & Keppie won the competition for the new Glasgow School of Art, but the design was Mackintosh's. The plan worked well, and the studios were lit by large north-facing windows, while the centrepiece had vernacular canted bay-windows derived from Dorset (or perhaps from Voysey's work), Art Nouveau elements, and an arched feature paraphrasing certain English Wrenaissance motifs. When the School was being built (1897–9), Mackintosh was commissioned to design fittings and decorations for Miss Cranston's Tea Rooms, and this was followed by Queen's Cross Church, Garscube Road (1897–1900), in a free Arts-and-Crafts Gothic style with touches of Art Nouveau. In 1899–1902 came his first important house, Windy Hill, Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire, and some of his furniture designs were published in Dekorative Kunst (Decorative Art—1898 and 1899). In 1900 Mackintosh married Margaret Macdonald, and the couple decorated their apartment at 120 Mains (now Blythswood) Street, Glasgow, with white, elegant furniture and all fittings designed by themselves (now in the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow). Together, they participated in the Sezession Exhibition in Vienna, where their work was well received, and they became friendly with Hoffmann and other Sezessionists. Indeed, in 1901 the Sezession journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring) publicized Glasgow and Mackintosh, and the latter won a special prize for his Haus eines Kunstfreundes (House for an Art-Lover) in a competition organized in 1900 by Koch, publisher of Zeitschrift für Innen-Dekoration (Journal of Interior Design): this design (to which Margaret Macdonald contributed) was published (1902), and built at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1902, having designed the Scottish section at the International Exhibition of Decorative Art in Turin, Mackintosh was commissioned to design The Hill House, Helensburgh, probably his finest achievement in domestic architecture. The exterior is completely harled (finished with a rough rendering), and beautiful interiors have panelled or stencilled walls: the white bedroom is one of Mackintosh's most felicitous creations. Then came the Willow Tea Rooms of Miss Cranston, the first of which (1903–19) was in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. Mackintosh's domestic work was featured in Muthesius's Das Englische Haus (The English House—1904–5 and 1908–11), while Muthesius and other commentators wrote up Mackintosh's designs in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (German Art and Decoration) and Dekorative Kunst, all of which made his name and the Glasgow School widely known.

Perhaps influenced by the Germans and Austrians, Mackintosh began to adopt a more formal, angular geometry from around 1904, gradually discarding the curving lines of Art Nouveau. For example, his Scotland Street School, Glasgow (1904), was influenced by castle architecture, and is a symmetrical building with two conical-roofed staircase-towers flanking the stone front: the traditional arrangement is reversed, however, for the curtain-wall is solid, pierced by windows, and the towers are glazed. In 1906 it was decided to complete the Glasgow School of Art, and Mackintosh revised the original design for the west end, with tall vertical oriel windows perhaps suggested by Lutyens's Les-Bois-des-Moutiers (1898), while on the south side the windows were recessed, and a cantilevered conservatory was introduced, suggested, no doubt, by Scots bartizans. This western extension contains Mackintosh's library, where his angular style is eloquently exhibited in the galleried timber construction, suggesting an almost Japanese economy of means.

Mackintosh became a partner in the firm, probably in 1902, although this was not made public until 1904 when Honeyman, Keppie, & Mackintosh was established, but by 1909 his career as an architect was foundering, not least because his criticism of the profession alienated his colleagues. He was also suspect among English Arts-and-Crafts architects because his work was tainted with ‘decadent’ Art Nouveau, and because he does not appear to have been overly concerned with honesty or soundness in construction, and so offended purists who held to the views promoted by A. W. N. Pugin, William Morris, and others. He left the practice in 1913, and after a period in Walberswick, Suffolk (1914–15), the Mackintoshes settled in Chelsea, London.

In 1916 ‘CRM’ was commissioned by Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke (1877–1953) to alter and furnish his house at 78 Derngate, Northampton, which he did, introducing a repeated triangular motif suggested by trends in Viennese design. The guest bedroom (c.1919—now in the Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow), with its startling linear, striped, and black-white-ultramarine colour-scheme, was illustrated in The Ideal Home (1920), and had affinities with designs by Loos and Behrens. Some of the triangular stencilled patterns for Derngate may have been suggested by F. L. Wright's Dana House, Springfield, IL (1903), published in Berlin (1911). From 1914 Mackintosh had been producing exquisite drawings and watercolours, and from 1923 to 1927 concentrated on painting.

He has been proclaimed since the 1930s as a kind of proto-Modernist, but this does not stand up to serious examination. He had far more in common with fin-de-siècle Jugendstil and the Sezessionists in Vienna, Berlin, and Munich, and it was there that his work was best appreciated.


Billcliffe (1977);
J. Cooper (ed.) (1984);
A. Crawford (1995);
F. Davidson (1998);
H. Ferguson (1995);
Fiell (1995);
Howarth (1977);
Kaplan (ed.) (1996);
Macaulay (1993);
J. McKean (1999, 2000, 2002);
McLeod (1983);
Nuttgens (ed.) (1988);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
P. Robertson (1995);
Steele (ed.) (1994);
Jane Turner (1996);
van Vynckt (ed.) (1993);
Wilhide (1995);
A. Young (1968)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

views updated May 23 2018

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was a Scottish artist, architect, and interior/furniture/textile designer who had a professional influence on the development of the Modern movement. He worked to create totally integrated art/architecture.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on June 7, 1868. He gained entry to the Glasgow School of Art where he studied principally architecture and design and was recognized as a remarkable talent by the school's director, Fra Newbery. Mackintosh joined the architectural practice of Honeyman and Keppie (1889) as a draftsman and won the competition to design and build a new School of Art for his mentor, Newbery, in 1896: this was his first major building commission and was a revolutionary design quite unlike anything erected in Europe to that date. Austere, elegant, defiantly "modern," it was shorn of almost all decoration and made historical references to Scottish vernacular architecture and to Japanese arts, a culture in which Mackintosh had an abiding interest. The building established Mackintosh from the outset as a radical architect determined to find a new design language appropriate for the coming 20th century. It has been said that modern architecture began when Mackintosh built the Glasgow School of Art.

While generally associated with the art nouveau style, Mackintosh rejected such comparisons and did not feel part of the 19th-century art nouveau European style represented by Guimard, Horta, van der Velde, or Gaudi, and little of their sinuous "whiplash" curvilinear expression is to be seen in Mackintosh's work. He sought to unite natural forms, especially those deriving from plants and flowers, with a new architectural and design vocabulary that set him well apart from the mainstream of architects who looked to Greece, Rome, and Egypt for inspiration from the antique. His marriage to a talented artist-designer, Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933), and the marriage of her sister, Frances, to Mackintosh's close friend Herbert McNair led to the formation of a brilliantly creative group, clearly led by Mackintosh, known variously as "The Four" or "The Spook School."

Considerable attention was focussed on the work of Mackintosh and the "Glasgow Style" artists and designers who had come from the School of Art. In 1900 Mackintosh and his friends were invited to create a room complete with furnishings at the Vienna Seccession exhibition. This created huge interest, and the Mackintoshes were lionized when they went to Vienna. Their exhibition display had a direct influence on the development of the Wiener Werkstatte formed shortly thereafter by Josef Hoffmann. Hoffmann and Mackintosh were close friends, and Hoffmann visited Glasgow twice to see Mackintosh's work, as did the influential critic Hermann Muthesius and the Werkstatte's patron, Fritz Wärndorfer. "The Four" exhibited widely in Europe, both together and individually, and Mackintosh received commissions for furniture from patrons in Berlin, Vienna, and elsewhere in Europe.

In Glasgow Mackintosh's greatest public exposure was through the creation of a number of restaurants, the tea rooms of his most enduring patron, Kate Cranston. The tea rooms provided a wonderful opportunity for Mackintosh to put into practice his belief that the architect was responsible for every aspect of the commissioned work. At The Willow Tea Room (1903) he converted an existing interior into a remarkable dramatic and elegant series of contrasting interiors with furniture, carpet, wall decor, light fittings, menu, flower vases, cutlery, and waitresses' wear all designed by Mackintosh to create a harmonious whole, implementing the idea of totally integrated art-architecture. It is said that Mackintosh used to go to the Room de Luxe at The Willow just before it opened for morning coffee to arrange the flowers and ensure the perfection of his creation!

Surprisingly, despite Mackintosh's fame in Europe and the numerous articles in, for example, The Studio magazine devoted to his work, he never became a dominant force in Glasgow architecture. He created the private house Windyhill in 1901, a number of tea rooms, many works of decorative art and furniture, and other architectural conversions but never had the opportunity to create a second masterpiece after the School of Art and in the manner of Hoffmann's success with the Palais Stoclet in Brussels (1905) which owes so much to Mackintosh's influence. The dramatic designs for the huge International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1901 were rejected as too radical, and his entries for other competitions—for example, Liverpool Cathedral—were unsuccessful. His direct influence on European architecture came not by examples but by suggestions, notably the distribution of a full-color lithographic portfolio of "Designs for the House of an Art-Lover" (1901), which was never built.

The Hill House of 1902 is the best example of Mackintosh's domestic architectural style and interior (open to the public: National Trust for Scotland) and has survived virtually intact. The Mackintoshes' own house, complete with its furnishings, has been brilliantly recreated at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow (open to the public), while his Glasgow School of Art has undergone extensive restoration of its interiors and collection (open to the public).

Mackintosh left Glasgow in 1915 for reasons never exactly clear but associated with a notable lack of commissions and the general building slump occasioned by the onset of World War I. He moved to England and journeyed to France and created a sumptuous series of watercolors of the landscape and flowers. Opportunities for a stylized series of flower forms to become widely-distributed printed textiles failed to materialize.

The famous flowing white-on-white interiors of the Glasgow period were replaced by geometric black-on-black interiors which clearly anticipated Art Deco in his final architectural commissions: 78 Derngate, Northampton, England, in 1915/1916, and the "Dug-Out" additions to the Willow Tea Room in Glasgow.

Mackintosh was a visionary designer and architect who had a professional influence on the development of the Modern movement. Although prolific during the height of his most creative years, 1896-1916, much of his work has been lost and the remainder is essentially confined to the city of Glasgow and surrounding region. Although completely neglected and largely ignored in the middle decades of this century, he has now been the subject of intense scrutiny and rediscovery. His furniture and textile designs are being produced with notable success, and in 1979 a writing desk he designed in 1901 for his own use reached the then world record price paid at auction for any piece of 20th-century furniture, 89,200 pounds. Now much admired and copied, he is seen as a central figure in the development of integrated art-architecture at the turn of the century and a seminal influence on many architects and designers of the Post Modern movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Charles Rennie Mackintosh died in distressed circumstances in London in 1928; his wife Margaret in 1933.

Further Reading

Additional information on the work of Mackintosh can be found in "Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement" (1977) by Thomas Howarth; "Charles Rennie Mackintosh Artist and Architect" (1983) by Robert McLeod; "Charles Rennie Mackintosh Architecture" (1980) by Jackie Cooper; and "Mackintosh Textile Designs" (1982), "Mackintosh Watercolours" (1979), and "The Complete Mackintosh Furniture, Drawings and Interiors" (1979), all by Roger Billcliffe. A thriving CRM Society devoted to the preservation of his work and to scholarship on the period publishes a quarterly newsletter and is based at Mackintosh's Queen's Cross Church, Glasgow.

Additional Sources

Crawford, Alan, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.

Howarth, Thomas, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the modern movement, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. Mackintosh & his contemporaries in Europe and America, London: J. Murray, 1988.

Macleod, Robert, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: architect and artist, New York: Dutton, 1983.

Moffat, Alistair, Remembering Charles Rennie Mackintosh: an illustrated biography, Lanark: C. Baxter Photography, 1989. □

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie

views updated May 21 2018

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie (1868–1928). Scottish architect and designer, a leading exponent of the Glasgow School of art nouveau. He designed a number of houses in and around Glasgow at the turn of the century but his best work was the designs for the Glasgow School of Art, its library, and extensions made between 1897 and 1909, which show bold lines and minimal decoration. His furniture and interior designs, often made in collaboration with his wife Margaret Macdonald, are characteristically art nouveau while avoiding florid excess. Especially fine were those for the Willow Tearooms in the centre of Glasgow. His work was highly influential in Europe but less so in Britain. He moved to London in 1923 but his practice folded soon after and he retired to the south of France where he concentrated on painting in water-colour.

June Cochrane

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie

views updated May 29 2018

Mackintosh, Charles Rennie (1868–1928) Scottish architect, artist, and designer. He was one of the most successful and gifted exponents of art nouveau. His buildings, such as the Glasgow School of Art (1898–1909), were notable for their simplicity of line and skilful use of materials. Mackintosh's ideas, some of which came from traditional Scottish buildings, had an enormous influence on early 20th-century European architecture, especially in Germany and Austria.;

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh