A Look at one of Glasgow’s Favourite Sons
His inspiration has always been there, deeply embedded in the core of Glasgow’s identity – a 100-year-old legacy that the rest of us can only marvel at. With the city’s wealthy and powerfully far-reaching past, it has long had an openness and fertility towards innovation and creativity. Opportunities existed for those with ambitions and visionary mindsets….and no-one seized on these more than Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
To this Glaswegian’s knowledge, there’s never been a better time to reflect on and appreciate the eternal legacy left by the man than 2018. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth, the best museum in the world will host Charles Rennie Mackintosh Making the Glasgow Style – a temporary exhibition presenting his work and its connection with this great city. An incredible spread of works (including loans from The Hunterian, The Glasgow School of Art, the V&A and many private collections) there are many that have never before been available for display in what is an incredibly thoughtful tribute to the creative minds behind the Glasgow Style.
The Rise of Mackintosh
As the world prepared to move into the 20th Century, Glasgow was the birthplace of the UK’s only Art Nouveau movement. The city was thriving with Imperial might and the wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurship was immense. The Glasgow Style was born. Driven by the ‘The Four’ – Mackintosh, his future wife Margaret Macdonald, her sister Frances and Frances’ future husband, James Herbert MacNair – Glasgow’s reputation in architecture and the decorative arts was at an all-time high.
With an architecture apprenticeship, years of study and considerable international travel under his belt, the 1890s saw the man come into his own. Experimenting with a range of decorative forms – furniture, watercolours, metalwork and more – he was at the vanguard of a movement towards permitting artists greater flexibility and independence within their work. He designed the Glasgow School of Art, he looked to artistic influences and styles from the East and he shot to popularity and acclaim in Continental Europe. Although it was some time before he was as appreciated back home as warmly as he was on the international stage, it was Mackintosh’s work in these years that have installed him as a household name today.
While I’d never dare to detract from the value of the role of Mackintosh’s hard graft to his legacy, I do sense that some of his other characteristics may have played a role in his eventual worldwide recognition and adoration. Well-travelled, cultured, meticulous, handsome……he certainly had the look of a mad made for success. I love looking over the black and white photos of him, often unable to help myself from comparing him with the iconic rascal Wild West cowboys like the Sundance Kid and Doc Holliday. Men of strong minds and roguish qualities that’ll always arouse interest and curiosity. Even more than his enviable image though was the role of his wife in his success. Margaret was very much Charles’ creative partner and artistic ally, and hugely talented in her own right. A partnership of dreams indeed.
The exhibition – featuring more than 250 objects – looks logically at the chapters of their journey and will be open to the public until the 14th of August 2018 on the lower level of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Tickets are £7 for adults, under 16s are free. Breathing new life into a legacy that, in truth, has never lost its vibrancy, this is a unique opportunity to understand just why his work has become so synonymous with Glasgow.
But there’s more. While we all still reflect sadly on the fire that stole the School of Art from us – at least temporarily – Mackintosh’s legacy still exists in numerous other structures dotted around the city. Here’s a look at some of my favourites:
Scotland Street School Museum
With its chilly corridors and authentic air of tangible disciplined education, this 1903-06 Mackintosh design is to be found just south of the river in Tradeston. A commanding exterior is dominated by the Scottish Baronial Style staircases and their glass windows. Inside, while there’s a slightly sad feel towards the absence of the little voices that would have dominated this place in decades past, the classroom reconstructions and fabulously authentic detailing make it a terrific day out attraction.
House for an Art Lover
Mackintosh’s 1901 design for this place did not actually come to fruition until 1996. What a thrilling thought that is for the folk that eventually took his drawings and turned them into modern-day reality! Now housing a permanent exhibition of decorative furnished rooms, it’s also an extremely popular event and wedding venue. Picturesquely set in the South Side’s Bellahouston Park, this a unique addition to Glasgow’s Mackintosh hit list.
A reconstruction of Mackintosh and Macdonald’s first house, this immaculate shrine supremely underlines their strength in interior decoration. Bringing together all of the things that made their work so revered, this light and stylish home is perhaps most memorable for its furnishings. All created in the Mackintosh mould, it’s quite a thought to imagine yourself living in a place where every detail has been moulded to suit your precise style preferences and views. Your home – in every conceivable sense. Access is by guided tour and is part of the Hunterian Gallery in the West End.
The only Mackintosh church design that was seen through, this red sandstone structure is often walked past with no understanding of its true significance. It’s magnificently vibrant floral stained-glass window and eerie atmosphere dominate the interior. The Church is also the present-day home of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and can be found just off Maryhill Road in the north west of Glasgow. Although also an event venue, don’t be surprised to have it entirely to yourself on your average day….
As ever, it’s each to their own with art. But, for me, Mackintosh’s appeal lies in his exactness to detail. His almost ruthless and mathematical leanings that underline his constant need for perfection. Sure he’s capable of bold use of colour and, at times anyway, a melancholic and even cold delivery of the finished product…but it’s the exactness and angular severity that have always dominated my vision of the man. I love his references to nature, his Japanese influences, his extreme uncluttered simplicity. I love that his work lives on through all of these buildings that still serve a diverse range of purpose. And I love that he’s still a figure of such local pride.
A uniquely extraordinary genius indeed.
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