Next year, the Walker Art Gallery is honoured to present the Making the Glasgow Style exhibition, based on the lifetime of work from Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his contemporaries between 1890 and 1920.
Born in 1868, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect, designer, water colourist and artist. Born in Glasgow, Mackintosh took inspiration from his Scottish upbringing and blended them with the flourish of Art Nouveau and the simplicity of Japanese forms, leading to the key artistic movement that became known as The Glasgow Style; the birthplace of the only Art Nouveau movement in the United Kingdom.
During the industrial revolution, Glasgow had one one of the greatest production centres of heavy engineering and shipbuilding in the world, exposing the city to Japanese navy and training engineers. As the city grew and prospered, industrialised, mass-produced items started to gain popularity. At the same time, a new philosophy concerned with creating functional and practice design was emerging throughout Europe: the so-called modernist ideas. Spending most of his life in Glasgow located on the banks of the River Clyde, Mackintosh was able to witness the cities expansion and due to this, the Industrial Revolution, Asian style and emerging modernist ideas became the key influences of his designs.
The Japanese art style was admired by Mackintosh because of its restraint and economy of means, its simple forms and natural materials, and the use of texture, light and shadow, all of which opposed to traditional British styles. Following this Mackintosh began to pioneer a new modernist Art Nouveau movement, though his designs were far removed from the bleak utilitarianism of Modernism. His aim was to build around the needs of people, seeing them as individuals who needed not a machine for living in but a work of art.
Around 1892, Mackintosh met his wife whilst studying evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. He worked with his future wife Margaret MacDonald, her sister Frances MacDonald, and Herbert MacNair during this time, and they eventually became known as a collaborative group, The Glasgow Four, becoming prominent figures in Glasgow Style art and design. The couple eventually married in 1900. While working in architecture, Mackintosh began to develop his own style separate from the movement: a contrast between strong right angles and floral inspired decorative motifs with subtle curves, e.g. the Mackintosh Rose motif. However, the majority if not all his detailing were designed by his wife Margaret Macdonald. Mackintosh eventually gained an international reputation for his project the Glasgow School of Art.
Later in life, disillusioned with architecture, Mackintosh worked largely as a water colourist, painting numerous landscapes and flower studies, often in collaboration with Margaret, with whose which Mackintosh’s style gradually converged. By 1923, the Mackintoshes had moved to Port-Vendres, a Mediterranean coastal town in southern France with a warm climate that was a comparably cheaper location in which to live. By this point, Mackintosh had entirely abandoned architecture and design, and was instead concentrating on watercolour painting, focusing on the relationships between man-made and naturally occurring landscapes. The couple remained in France for two years, before being forced to return to London in 1927 due to illness.
That year, Mackintosh was diagnosed with cancer, and after a brief recovering later died in 1928, at the age of 60. Following his death Mackintosh’s designs gained popularity in the decades following. His House for an Art Lover was built in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park in 1996, and the University of Glasgow (which owns most of his watercolour work) rebuilt the interior of a terraced house Mackintosh had designed, and furnished it with his and Margaret’s work.
The 2019 Making the Glasgow Style exhibition will present objects from Glasgow Museums and the Mitchell Library and Archives, as well as loans from private and public collections, with more than 250 objects on display. Come and check out Mackintosh’s exclusive pieces from the 15th March 2019 till the 26th August, for just £8.