The Life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh 1

Charles-Rennie-MackintoshCharles Rennie Mackintosh was born at 70 Parson Street, Townhead, Glasgow on 7 of July of 1868. He was the son of William McIntosh, the superintendent and chief clerk of the City of Glasgow Police, and his wife Margaret Rennie. It is still unclear the motive why he changed his name from McIntosh to Mackintosh. He has been described as the “European counterpart of Frank Lloyd Wright,” as well as a prophet of modernism and an apostle of Art Nouveau, his work does not fit into any specific niche.

At the age of 16, Mackintosh attended the Glasgow School of Art evening classes from 1883 until 1894. The Glasgow School of Art had broadened his horizons and gave him new perspectives of life. He was dyslexic and during his school years had trouble reading and writing, however, due to a disability in his foot and a bad limp he was also not suited to manual labour. Despite this, he was still able to secure an apprenticeship and gain entry into the prestigious Glasgow School of Art.

He was part of a group that became known as “The Four” a group of remarkable men and women members of the “Glasgow School” movement. This group was composed by himself, Margaret MacDonald, Frances MacDonald and Herbert MacNair. He married Margaret on 22 of August of 1900, and MacNair and Frances also married each other.
He also integrated a group that named themselves “The Immortals”.

This were a group of free apirits, idealists and bohemian men and women, that reunited each weekend to talk about how they could unleash beauty in the world. In 1889, he start working as a draftsman in the Honeyman & Keppie office. In 1901he became a partner in the practice. He was supposed to marry his employer’s sister, Jessie Keppie, but that never happened. Choosing his other love was a tough decision for this epoch that could had serious negative consequences in his career. In 1899, he started his first major architectural project, the Glasgow Herald Building (now known as The Lighthouse) in Honeyman & Keppie office.

During this period, he had a kind of a double life, one more ordinary, serious and professional as an architect in an office, and one more peculiar, with its own identity as an artist.

When he married Margaret on 1900, they didn’t have a proper honeymoon because he had to go to Vienna to create an exhibition there. Here he was almost worshiped like a god by the people of Vienna, and were probably the happier times of his life. There he passed a holistic idea of art, where the buildings, furniture and painting can be integrated as one in a total work of art. This message was an absolute inspiration to the designers of Vienna. His influence here was enormous and gave in a great boost of confidence. Therefore, when he went back to Glasgow he produced most of his best work.

The Life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh bookIn the design area, Mackintosh had been able to stand out for the originality of how he had conceived furniture, glasses, textiles and other decorative elements, many times combined with the designs of Margaret MacDonald, his wife and an artist too. His designs are still inspiring artists, one is example is the design partnership of Brad Pitt and the North American designer Frank Pollaro that in 2012 created a luxury line of furniture inspired by him and Frank Lloyd Wright.

He was considered a man advanced for his epoch, and Mackintosh was definitely the precursor of the modern style and subsequently the Art Deco movement. He was also considered the father of the “Glasgow Style”.
In the architecture, he developed orthogonal structures of iron, with smooth walls of stone and large superficies of glass, geometrical and curvilinear volumes and moveable interiors. His designs were elegant, serene, full of light and had many little details. He felt that buildings should bring people to the light providing a type enlightenment to the people who inhabit or work in them, and should celebrate the joy and nature, the grace of forms and gladness of colour.

He was 28 when he won his most important commission on 1896, the conception of a new building for the Glasgow School of Art .Due to the lack of money is architectonic work was constructed in two phases. The first from 1897 to 1899 and the second one from 1907 to 1909. This delay on the conclusion of this building gave Mackintosh the stylistic opportunity to modify and integrate fully is original design, which had much Scotland`s tradition with a second half of the building with more a modern view of the XX century by using new materials and technologies.
The front of the Glasgow School of Art was modern but still acceptable in the minds of the epoch, but the back was a real shock to the people of Glasgow, it was simple and austere, naked and perhaps now we can call her cubistic.

The most dramatic of all the interiors of the Glasgow School of Art was the new Librarian, concluded in 1909, that laid on a complex space of wood and posts. When you enter inside it, you feel like you are entering a forest. Nature is celebrated everywhere in this place. Its construction was much due to the Japanese domestic traditional interiors, but if you sum all up the building was an eclectic mixture of styles and influences. This building was considered the first example of Art Nouveau in the United Kingdom. Is also considered to be his masterpiece and it was the work that conferred him greater international projection.

CRM_pitkin_guideMany architects and designers of this epoch were inspired by the South, England, France, Spain, but Mackintosh were inspired by its own roots, the medieval monuments of Scotland. Its architecture and design vision was very expensive and only a few wealthy persons should indulge their passion to architecture, arts and design. In addition, its clients had to give him complete control of their buildings. Miss Cranston was one of these patrons, and she commission him, between 1896 and 1917, of design and re-style the interiors of all of her tearooms in Glasgow. The tearooms provided an alternative space to pubs and other establishments that served alcoholic beverages, and people could drink tea and eat sweets there. During these twenty-one years of work his styles vary, but its prime achievement were the Willow Tearooms, on the south side of Sauchiehall Street, not far from the Art School. It had four floors with lunchrooms and tearooms for women and billiard rooms and smoking rooms for men. They were all lushly decorated, with light decoration for the women and dark for men.

Room de Luxe was the exponent of his creation in the Willow Tearooms. Room de Luxe was on the first floor at the front of the building and was the most extravagant of all the rooms and was opulently and intimate decorated.
Since he had a holistic design vision, he had only three main patrons. Miss Cranston as we said before, that gave complete control to Mackintosh. The other ones were Newbery and the publisher Walter Blackie. He was very fortunate to have these patrons that allowed him to transform into reality is holistic vision that integrated the architecture with design and art giving him total control of his creations.

Design by Charles Rennie MackintoshFrom 1902 to 1904 he designed and built the Hill House, a family home in Helensburgh, Scotland for Walter Blackie. Here we can also observe the attention put to every details of Mackintosh.

He designed everything there from the building, the carpets, and the fireplaces to the furniture. In addition, the aesthetic standards imposed by him were very rigid. He even told what type of colors the flowers should have. For example Miss Blackie couldn’t put yellow flowers on the table in the hall because it would clash with the rest of the color scheme of the décor.

The light also has an important role in this building, which becomes even brighter when one goes upstairs looking like you had reach heaven. There was also a lot of sensuality in his lines, by blending the masculine with the feminine.

The private home of Margaret and Macintosh integrated these ideas. Although his designs were full of sensuality, the couple didn’t have any children, but not for lack of trying. Probably, that is the reason why both could dedicate so much time and soul to their work.

Other than architecture works that are worthy of a mention were the pieces put on display in the County Museum of Art de Los Angeles, the Art Institute de Chicago, Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York and the Art Lover’s House. This is the first time his works made it across to the united states to be used in an exhibition of this size.

With time, Glasgow got tired of the Mackintosh style. He developed problems with alcohol, and he became depressed, caught a pneumonia and had a slow recovery. For a change of scenery in July of 1914, the couple went to Walberswick. Here he would wear very dark clothes and take long walks. There he was briefly arrested in 1915 accused of being a German spy, and had to go back to London. His later few architectural works were different from the sensuous, curvilinear lines in Glasgow they evolved to hard geometric shapes, diamonds and zigzags, a darker pallet of colors predicting the Art Deco in France. By 1923, the Mackintoshes move to southern France to Port-Vendres, that was a cost of life cheaper than London. He spend some time alone here in Port-Vendres.

Although he was best known for his architecture and design work, Mackintosh was also a famous painter, area to which he will dedicate with more emphasis in their last years of his life. He was the author of watercolors like “Harvest Moon” (1894), “The Tree of Personal Effort” (1896) and “Le Fort Mailly” (1923).

In 1927, he returned to London due to illness. He was diagnosed with throat and tongue cancer, he died at the age of 60 years in London on 10 of December of 1928.

He was a perfectionist that had a holistic vision and integrated everything from the architecture of the building, the design of furniture, to art in his watercolor paintings. We can say that he was more than just an architect he was a complete artist.

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One thought on “The Life of Charles Rennie Mackintosh

  • Howard

    I love the legacy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Him and Frank Lloyd Wright are my favorites!
    Keep the articles coming, I love reading about these guys.