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Charles Rennie Mackintosh
BIOGRAPHY: CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH AND THE FOUR
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 -1928) is arguably Scotland’s most famous architect, designer and artist
By Levi Newman and Wilson Yau,
2015 on RIBA
(online Feb. 2017)
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 - 1928) is most well known as an artist and architect. Perhaps they know him through his masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art (GSA), or his distinct floral decorative motifs that most often come to mind when there’s talk of ‘Mackintosh style’. But this well-loved designer had humble beginnings.
Mackintosh was born in Glasgow into a working-class family on 7 June 1868. He was the fourth of 11 children and his father was a policeman. He began his career in 1884, aged 16, by serving an apprenticeship to local architect John Hutchinson. He attended evening classes at the GSA from 1883 until 1894. During his time at the practice he met his future wife, fellow student Margaret Macdonald, with whom he would work closely together on many of his interior designs. They married in 1900.
With his training or pupillage complete, he moved on to the office of Honeyman & Keppie in 1889 as a draftsman. He became a partner in the practice in 1901. Despite the success in Glasgow, he and Margaret left the city and the firm in 1913 to go to Suffolk. The last years of his life outside Glasgow were characterised by poor health and the lack of commissions.
Because his career was short, he is sometimes cast as a tragic figure, rejected by his home city and the architectural establishment. But the GSA was judged the best building of the past 175 years in a RIBA nationwide poll in 2009 and the outpouring of grief following the school’s damaging fire in 2014 is a sign that the post-war surge in his popularity continues.
Design for a house for an art lover, 1901
Designers: Margaret MacDonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh
© RIBA Library Photographs Collection
In contrast to the picture of a solitary figure in his last years imagined in popular culture, Mackintosh collaborated with others in the early part of his career and his lively social circle was drawn from those studying alongside him at the GSA, including from a group who called themselves ‘The Immortals’. These friendships helped Mackintosh to explore new artistic ideas. In particular he was to form close bonds with Herbert McNair and the sisters Frances and Margaret Macdonald. The Four, as they became known, created a range of paintings, furniture and designs together and independently, which were successfully exhibited across Europe...
The Four were part of a bigger decorative movement active at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The Glasgow Style, as it became known, was centred round the Glasgow School of Art and combined Arts and Crafts, Celtic and Art Nouveau elements.
Tragically, Mackintosh was not alone in his setbacks. In the years running up to World War I, The Four – as a group and as individuals – were unable to sustain their early successes.
On Buffalo Architecture and History website:
Bedroom set - Musée d'Orsay
Armchair - Montreal Museum of Fine Arts