By the end of the 19th century Glasgow School of Art was one of
the leading art academies in Europe and its reputation in
architecture and the decorative arts had reached an all time high.
At the very heart of this success was a talented young artist,
architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
For over 20 years Mackintosh worked almost exclusively in Glasgow
where all his best-known work was created and where much of it
still remains, yet he left Glasgow in search of greater success and
died in London in relative obscurity. It is perhaps ironic that he
was given little recognition by his native city at the time, for by
the end of the 20th century he was being recognised as the father
of 'Glasgow Style' and one of the driving forces behind a new
approach to modern architecture.
Born in Glasgow on 7 June 1868 Mackintosh trained as an architect
in a local practice and studied art and design at evening classes
at the Glasgow School of Art. At art school Mackintosh and his
friend and colleague Herbert MacNair met the artist sisters
Margaret and Frances Macdonald. These four artists collaborated on
designs for furniture, metalwork and illustration, developing a
highly distinctive array of weird images including abstracted
female figures and metamorphic lines reminiscent of Aubrey
Beardsley. Their style earned them the nickname of the 'Spook
School' and their work, particularly in England, was treated with
suspicion because of its decadent influence of Continental art
The majority of Mackintosh's three-dimensional work was created
with the help of a small number of patrons within a short period of
intense activity between 1896 and 1910. Francis Newbery was
headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art and was supportive of
Mackintosh's ultimately successful bid to design a new art school
building, his most prestigious undertaking. For Miss Kate Cranston
he designed a series of Glasgow tearoom interiors and for the
businessmen William Davidson and Walter Blackie, he was
commissioned to design large private houses, 'Windyhill' in
Kilmacolm and 'The Hill house' in Helensburgh.
In Europe, the originality of Mackintosh's style was quickly
appreciated and in Germany and Austria he received the acclaim that
he was never truly to gain at home. In 1900 the Mackintoshes were
feted in Vienna as a result of their contribution to the 8th Vienna
Secession and this led to friendships with designers such as Josef
Hoffmann and the commission to design the Warndorfer Music Salon.
In 1902 the Mackintosh Room at the Turin International Exhibition
was also enthusiastically received and he went on to exhibit in
Moscow and Berlin.
Despite this success and with his undoubted influence abroad,
Mackintosh's work met with considerable indifference at home and
his career in Glasgow declined. Few private clients were
sufficiently sympathetic to want his 'total design' of house and
interior and he was incapable of compromise.
By 1914 Mackintosh had despaired of ever receiving true
recognition in Glasgow and both he and Margaret moved, temporarily,
to Walberswick on the Suffolk Coastline, where he painted many fine
flower studies in watercolour.
In 1915 they settled in London and for the next few years
Mackintosh attempted to resume practice as an architect and
designer. The designs he produced at this time for textiles, for
the 'Dug-out' Tea Room in Glasgow and the dramatic interiors for
Bassett-Lowke's house in Northampton, England show him working in a
bold new style of decoration, using primary colours and geometric
motifs. It was an output of extraordinary vitality and originality
that went virtually unheeded.
In 1923 the Mackintoshes left London for the South of France where
Mackintosh gave up all thoughts of architecture and design and
devoted himself entirely to painting landscapes. He died in London,
of cancer, on 10 December 1928.
More On Charles Rennie
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society
The Glasgow School of Art Mackintosh
Building Centenary site
Tour Mackintosh's Masterpiece:
The Mackintosh Building