Post 700 –by Gautam Shah
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was a Scottish architect, designer, textile designer, product designer, graphics artist and water-colourist. He lived most of his life in the city of Glasgow. At young age he was afflicted with rheumatic fever, this resulted in a droop on one side of his face. Because of these disabilities, young Charles was encouraged to spend time in the countryside. And love for the countryside and flora was to enliven creativity through his life.
Mackintosh was a reclusive child who had difficulties in understanding the emotions of others. He used his sketchbooks as a way to withdraw from the world, manage his own outbursts of rage. Mackintosh in his later years became an avid painter of flowers. Macintosh art work of nature in pencil and watercolour was exquisite and botanically accurate. Later in life, disillusioned with several un-built architectural designs, Mackintosh devoted himself as a watercolour artist. With Margaret, his wife, they painted many landscapes and flower studies.
‘Art is the Flower – Life is the Green Leaf. Let every artist strive to make his flower a beautiful living thing, something that will convince the world that there may be, there are, things more precious more beautiful – more lasting than life itself… you must offer real, living – beautifully coloured flowers – flowers that grow from, but above, the green leaf – flowers that are not dead – are not dying – not artificial – real flowers springing from your own soul – not even cut flowers – You must offer the flowers of the art that is in you – the symbols of all that is noble – and beautiful – and inspiring – flowers that will often change a colourless leaf – into an established and thoughtful thing’.
Mackintosh joined Glasgow School of Art at fifteen and a year started working as a trainee draftsman with John Hutchinson. After that apprenticeship in 1889, he joined Honeyman and Keppie. In 1890 he won £60, as the coveted ‘Alexander Thomson Traveling Studentship for Public Design. He decided to go to Italy and Europe. This changed his life with varied design related experiences. It was here that Charles Rennie Mackintosh met fellow artist and future wife, Margaret MacDonald, who influenced his life intensely. Macintosh, wife Margaret, sister-in-law Frances and her husband Herbert Mac Nair, were known as the ‘The Four or the Spook School’, and the ‘Glasgow Style’. They influenced the Glasgow art scene and European design movements such as Art Nouveau and Secessionism profoundly. ‘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’.
Architecture of Charles Rennie Mackintosh is ‘a contrast between strong right angles and floral-inspired decorative motifs with subtle curves’. The Glasgow School of Art project, considered to be the first Art Nouveau style building, gave him international reputation. It was constructed in two stages separated by nearly half a decade, allowed lots of improvisation during the second execution. During the period he completed a curious project, the Queen’s Cross Church. It is now restored and houses the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society headquarters.
Macintosh created a new design paradigm from the natural forms of plants and flowers in an age when most of the modernist designers were trying to rediscover Greek, Roman, Egyptian and other ancient expressions. ‘We must clothe modern ideas with modern dress’. A friend said, ‘the creations of Mackintosh breathe’. The interior and exterior spaces designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh ‘sing of serenity, spirituality, and of rigorous attention to detail’. He had a knack of making hard surfaces and tough forms, soft and elegant. His was meticulous, delicate and extremely restrained. The husband-wife partnership created a unified expression. From around 1904, Mackintosh began to adopt more formal, angular geometry, gradually doing away the cursive form of Art Nouveau.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s only other ecclesiastical work was the Ruchill Free Church Halls which were completed in 1899. Significantly, the Free Church did not ask Mackintosh to design the adjacent church building.
‘The architect must become an art worker… the art worker must become an architect… the draughtsman of the future must be an artist…’ Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Church buildings by Mackintosh > Mackintosh designed two religious buildings in Glasgow. Queen’s Cross Church is a former Church of Scotland in Glasgow. The site was on a corner location, with adjoining tenements and a warehouse. The Building started shortly after Mackintosh finished his competition design for the Glasgow School of Art. The design has Gothic features. The window features a blue heart. After being decommissioned in 1970, it serves as headquarters of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. The adjoining church hall provides tearoom facilities with a display many Mackintosh artifacts including replicas of the chairs he designed for the Willow Tearooms.
Mackintosh works had subtle Scottish flavour, but he consciously adopted freshness that marked his modernism. He was concerned for functional, practical and simplistic features. He never used heavy ornamentation of past styles. Much of his work includes contribution by his wife, Margaret MacDonald whose flowing, floral style complemented the formal, rectilinear architectural work. Unfortunately his work was appreciated only long after his death.
By 1914 Mackintosh lost hope of ever receiving the recognition that he truly deserved. He became stubborn and uncompromising. His career and health both were low. After the stay in Walberswick, conditions began to improve. This was just before the war (WW-I), but he was called a German spy and for a while put under house arrest. He moved to London, in the early 1920s, to reignite his carrier. Here Macintosh began to concentrate on water colour art. Later they moved to France in 1923-27, where he painted scenes of the French coastline. He painted Port Vendres, near the Spanish border and the landscapes of Roussillon. He sought to capture the harmonious coexistence relationships between man-made and natural elements through architectural landscapes in watercolour paintings.
Macintosh was a meticulous person, and his working drawings included exhaustive details for architecture, decoration, and furnishings. His wife, Margaret MacDonald immensely contributed to this documentation. These drawings have helped restore many of the projects with original details. All his major architectural commissions like homes, commercial buildings, interior renovations and churches were between 1895 and 1906. Many of his projects, however, remained on paper.