There can be few who have visited Glasgow and have failed to be impressed by enduring legacy of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928). Evident in locations around the city are the iconic result of his work as an architect, designer and artist.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born into a large middle class Glaswegian family. An able student, in 1890 he won the Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship to study ancient classic architecture. Thomson, an eminent Glaswegian architect, known for his stunning churches, his influence has been traced to places around the world including New York City and the works of Frank Lloyd Wright.
His first major architectural project, the Glasgow Herald Building (now known as The Lighthouse) was in 1899.
In 1913, having resigned from a previous partnership, Honeyman & Keppie, he attempted to open his own practice.
Given Glasgow’s heritage and reputation in international shipbuilding, various Japanese engineers were sent to be learn their trades in Scotland bringing with them oriental artefacts. Japanese art and culture caught Mackintosh’s imagination and influenced his style. He was fascinated by simple forms, natural materials, the use of texture and light and shadow. Japanese arts, furniture and design particularly stressed the quality of the space. Combining an Asiatic influence with new warmer aspects of Modernism and Art Nouveau, that were then arriving from Europe, Mackintosh drew on and blended these influence with his upbringing and traditional Scottish architecture with stunning results.
The Glasgow School of Art sealed his reputation as an influential architect.
An extensive amount of his architectural detailing was almost certainly designed by his wife and fellow artist, Margaret MacDonald
His architectural output was small, but influential. He was commissioned by the publisher, Walter Blackie, to design Hill House in Helensburgh, to the west of Glasgow. Blackie stipulated that the construction should include no bricks, plaster, wooden beams or a red-tiled roof. He wanted grey rough cast walls and a slate roof but otherwise Mackintosh was given a free rein. Mackintosh spent time with the Blackie and his family so as to ensure that his design would suit the needs of the family.
Mackintosh, his wife, her sister, Frances and his architectural colleague, Herbert MacNair, became known a “The Glasgow Four”. They exhibited widely in Glasgow, London and Vienna – influencing a number of contemporaries – and became leaders in the development of the “Glasgow Style” of the 1890’s.
Mackintosh’s interior design work is particularly beautiful with the Willow Tea Room and the Ingram Street tea room (now demolished) both being fine examples.
His fine and detailed work is also seen in his furniture, in addition to his signature ladder back chairs he and his wife designed glazed cabinets and screens.
Having become disillusioned with architecture, Mackintosh and his wife moved to the Suffolk village of Walberswick in 1941 and there continued to paint, particularly watercolours.
In 1923 the couple moved to Port-Vendres in the South of France where their work as artists continued but sadly returned to London in 1927 when Charles was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer.
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