Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is a Scottish painter, architect and designer who had a professional influence on the development of the modern movement. He is the author of many of the most influential buildings, furniture, and decorative schemes of the early 20th century.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1893), James Craig Annan. Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London

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About his life and career

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born on June 7, 1868 in Glasgow. He was the second son of eleven children of William McIntosh and Margaret Rennie.  His father was the Superintendent and Chief of Police for the City of Glasgow. Mackintosh grew up in the Townhead and Denniston districts of Glasgow and attended Reid Public School and the Allan Glen Institute from 1880 to 1883.  Since childhood, Charles avoided noisy companies and led a sedentary lifestyle. The reason for this was problems with the musculoskeletal system due to injury. Charles devoted his free time to floristic sketches – he depicted garden flowers, which later became an adornment of many interiors.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s rose and teardrop textile design, 1915-28

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In 1890, Mackintosh became the second winner of the Alexander Thomson Student Travel Competition, designed to “promote the study of ancient classical architecture, with particular emphasis on the principles illustrated in the works of Mr. Thomson.” In 1889, Macintosh joined Hanimen and Keppi as a draftsman for the architectural practice. In 1896 he won a competition to design and build a new art school for his mentor, Newbury. This was his first project. Compared to everything that was being built in Europe at that time, this project was completely revolutionary. The building has established Macintosh as a radical architect from the start. He was looking for a new design language suitable for the coming 20th century. It is said that with the construction of the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh laid the foundation for modern architecture.

Scotland Street School Museum

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Around 1892, at the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh met the artist Margaret McDonald, who became his wife in 1900. Charles’s fellow student, Herbert McNair, also a student at Honeyman and Keppie, had married Margaret’s sister, Frances MacDonald, a year earlier. The group worked together to become known as “The Four” and were a prominent figure in the art and design style of Glasgow.  that produced some of the most inventive decorative art and graphic design of the period.

Glasgow School of Art, 1909, C. R. Mackintosh
Glasgow School of Art, 1909, C. R. Mackintosh

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In 1904, after completing several successful construction projects, Mackintosh partnered with Honeyman & Keppie and the company became Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh. When economic difficulties led to the closure of many architectural practices, in 1913 he abandoned the partnership and tried to open his own practice.

About his style

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is an iconic figure in the history of British design and architecture. He is the ancestor of British Art Nouveau. This style replaced the reigning neo-romanticism and marked the beginning of the formation of a “cosmopolitan” variety of modernity. A distinctive feature of British Art Nouveau was refined and noble restraint, close to asceticism.  It is noteworthy that Charles used this style when working with graphics and interior design. As for architectural activities, he showed himself as a neo-romantic, inclined towards rationalism.

Painted oak cabinet with coloured glass, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1902.

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Mackintosh shared the idea, popular among his contemporaries, that it was the duty of an architect to design not only the structure of a building, but also every detail of its interior. He was one of the most advanced exponents of the theory of the room as a work of art and created unique furniture of great formal sophistication. He was also a very gifted painter, creating exquisite flower paintings and, at the end of his life, a series of striking landscapes of the south of France.

The Room de Luxe at The Willow Tearooms, C. R. Mackintosh, M. Macdonald

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What are his major works?

Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work can be divided into three main areas: public buildings (Scotland Street school in Glasgow), private homes (The Hill House and the villas Windyhill), tea rooms (The Willow Tearooms).

Design for a house for an art lover. 1901

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  • Glasgow School of Art (1896–1909), considered the first original example of Art Nouveau architecture in Britain.
  • The Willow Tearooms, Glasgow (1904). This project is considered the most unique piece of Macintosh, combining art, architecture and design into a single environment.
  • Windyhill, Kilmacolm (1899-1901);
  • House on a Hill, Helensburg (1902);
  • Scotland Street School, Glasgow (1904–06).

He was also responsible for two unrealized projects: the 1901 International Exhibition in Glasgow (1898) and the Haus eines Kunstfreundes, drawings for a competition to design an House for an Art Lover (1901). The latter was posthumously built as an House for an Art Lover in the late 20th century in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow.

House for an Art Lover

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