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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Updated on February 1, 2014

Charled Rennie Mackintosh - The Early Years

The iconic Victorian architect and one time member of of the 'Glasgow Four', Charles Rennie Mackintosh, known as Rennie Mackintosh or simply Mackintosh, was born in Glasgow, Scotland on June 7th 1868. Mackintosh was the son of a police super-intendent.

Mackintosh started his education at a public school and then went to the Allen Glen Institution which was a school, in Glasgow, founded in 1850. The Institute was set up to offer an education to the sons of trades(men) or to the industrial classes. The school was a fee paying science and engineering based establishment but had many bursaries.

Charles left school at the age of 15, and, against his fathers wishes, worked as an apprentice to Glasgow architect John Hutchison until he was aged 21. During his 21st year he left Hutchison and went to work for another, newly established architectural practice, Honeyman and Keppie. Mackintosh worked there initially as a draughtsman, until becoming a partner twelve years later in 1901.

From the age of 18, and all the way through those early years of employment, C. Rennie Mackintosh had been attending the Glasgow School of Art in the evenings. Mackintosh excelled here and as a result was given free studentships and won two out of the three Glasgow Institute Architectural prizes.

At age 22, in 1890, Mackintosh won another award. This was the Alexander Thompson Award. Alexander Thompson was another Glaswegian visionary architect accredited with, amongst other things, ideas around ventilation and sustainable housing. Thompson's Award was called a Travelling Studentship Award, Mackintosh was the second person to ever win this award, it enabled the winner to study classic and ancient architecture on location. With his £60 prize money Mackintosh went to Italy for four months, enriching his knowledge of art and design.

The Herald Extension

C.R.Mackintosh's Herald building in Glasgow, Scotland.Taken by Finlay McWalter on May 7th 2004. The tower was originally designed to be a water tower.
C.R.Mackintosh's Herald building in Glasgow, Scotland.Taken by Finlay McWalter on May 7th 2004. The tower was originally designed to be a water tower. | Source

The Glasgow School of Art

16:45, May 7, 2004 Finlay McWalter 800×599 (158,184 bytes) (Glasgow of School)
16:45, May 7, 2004 Finlay McWalter 800×599 (158,184 bytes) (Glasgow of School) | Source

The Willow Tea Rooms

Wikicommons | Source

Architectural Mackintosh

Charles Rennie mackintosh was instrumental in changing some of the architectural landscape in and around Glasgow.

In 1895 he designed Martyrs Public School, now a listed building, which was built in the distinctive Scottish red sandstone. Martyrs school, built 30 miles from Rennies birthplace, in the Townhead area of Glasgow, was designed around the same time as the Herald Newspaper building extension. It has evidence of Japanese influences, which Mackintosh was studying at the Glasgow School of Art, beginning which were beginning to creep into his designs.

The Herald Newspaper Building extension was designed and accredited to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Lighthouse, as it is now referred to is currently accessible through a sympathetic but modern helical staircase which enables access to a viewing gallery. This gallery is within the original tower that Mackintosh designed to be a water tower..

Queen Margaret College was originally a women only higher education college built around 1870. Twenty years later the college was allowed to teach medicine, and a design for new medical hall was commissioned to John Keppie and Rennie Mackintosh. This hall was opened in 1895.

Mackintosh's most famous and celebrated architectural triumph is the Glasgow School of Art building. He was commissioned to design it by Francis Newbery the school's then director. The building was fully completed by 1909, having been built in two phases. On first appearance the building seems to be austere, but on closer inspection the grids and square shapes are softened by an almost incongruous use of ironwork as natural and softening flowing art nouveau style forms.

Kate Cranston was a Mackintosh patron. For twenty years he created and designed for her. His first commission was in the tea rooms in Buchanan Street, a small commission for murals. His involvement increased to include furniture design when he worked on the Argyle Team Rooms. The culmination of his work with Cranston was undoubtedly the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

The Coulourist Mackintosh

The Scottish Colourists of the turn of the 20th century have influenced current Scottish art and culture as it is today. They were post impressionist painters who used a highly developed colouring technique and included such artists as John Duncan Fergusson and William McTaggart who is actually attributed to be forerunner of the movement.

McTaggart (1835-1910) was also a predecessor to Charles Mackintosh and the Spook School, who along with the Glasgow Boys and the Glasgow Girls were influenced by Japanese, French art and the vivid colours of Spain and North Africa. This contributed, particularly for the 'Four', to the development of the Art Nouveau movement, which was breaking away from the classical styles of the past.

This shift in the way colour was being used from the subtle shadings and tones of the classicists, to flat vibrant colours influenced by the Glasgow Movement enabled Mackintosh to develop and master his own use of colour. Not only was Rennie an architect, but he was now also interior designer and an artist.


Mackintosh the Interior Designer

The extraordinary ability to work across and combine disciplines allowed Charles Mackintosh to create entire buildings, their interiors and artworks as a single complete masterpieces. Hill House in Helensburgh and the Willow tea rooms are examples of such combined discipline projects and his clear brilliance with colour shape and form.

Evidence of Rennie's unique furniture styles can be seen in the high back simple clean line chairs Rennie designed and furniture embellished with his famous stylised rose motif. The Willow Chair, designed for the Willow Tea rooms is a beautiful example of this bold stark and architectural furniture. In fact Mackintosh designed everything in his interiors to fit together, he used rooms and buildings the way an artist uses a canvas. He considered every detail from windows to murals, carpets, furniture and lighting.

The Willow Tea Rooms

The clean lines and perfectly proportioned furniture compliments the unique stylised windows of the Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow
The clean lines and perfectly proportioned furniture compliments the unique stylised windows of the Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow | Source

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Mary MacDonald
Mary MacDonald | Source

Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald

Charles Rennie mackintosh openly and freely attributed many of the influences on his work to his wife English born wife Mary MacDonald. Mary was an exceptionally skilled artist and like Mackintosh had an extraordinary ability to encompass different media and forms.Her collaboration with Mackintosh is evident in many of his interiors, if fact it is believed that Mackintosh himself thought his wife to be the more talented of the two. After Mary had exhibited in Vienna it is thought her work even influenced the artistry of Gustav Kimpt.

Mary and Charles met whilst attending the Glasgow School of Art. Mary and her sister, Francis, joined Charles and fellow student Herbert McNair to become the 'Glasgow Four'. Mary and Charles married in 1900, their marriage was to last for a further 28 years until Rennies death in 1928, Margaret survived her husband by only five more years.

Their lives together had mixed fortunes in the later years, whilst their styles were popular in Europe their designs were not so sought after in the UK. As commissions dried up and their financial situation deteriorated they moved to France which was comparatively more affordable. It was Charles' illness that forced a move back to London, England where he died.

Mackintosh Today

The buildings that Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed are now an intrinsic part of the Glasgow landscape. His work is renown world wide and travellers visit Scotland from far and wide to enjoy and admire his creations. Original pieces designed by him or his wife rarely come up for sale, but when they do they command record sales prices. Mackintosh's work a century later is heavily replicated for the interior design market, such is the continued and enduring appeal of his design.

Are you an ardent admirer of Charles Rennie Mackintosh?

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Glasgow City, Scotland. The birth place of Charles R Mackintosh.

The Harvest Moon by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The Harvest Moon, painted in 1892, is perhaps, one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's most hauntingly beautiful and iconic paintings.
The Harvest Moon, painted in 1892, is perhaps, one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's most hauntingly beautiful and iconic paintings. | Source


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    • Janey Hood profile image

      Janey Hood 3 years ago from UK

      Thank you so much for your lovely comments!

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 3 years ago from USA

      Very interesting hub! I was not familiar with the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but I love the samples of his work that you included with your hub. Thanks for the introduction :) Voted up!!