RENNIE & MARGARET MACDONALD MACKINTOSH
1865 - 1933
From the earliest days
of their professional and romantic partnership, Charles and Margaret
were as closely in synch as they were joyously in love. These
companion pieces painted for one of Katherine Cranston's Glasgow tearooms in
1900, the year of their marriage, convey this with more eloquence than
The Wassail; Charles
Rennie Mackintosh; cartoon for Gesso Panels, Ingram Street Tearooms;
Pencil and watercolor on tracing paper.
The May Queen; Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh; cartoon for Gesso
Panels, Ingram Street Tearooms; Pencil and watercolor on tracing
years later, during the last full year of his life, Charles wrote to
Margaret this summation of their joint work: You must remember
that in all my architectural efforts you have been half if not
three-quarters of them.
had repeatedly expressed the opinion that, while he possessed talent, his wife
had genius. Moreover, according to my research, she was the party
sufficiently skilled in detailed planning to keep complex projects on
track. (You can see that in her face, can't you?)
intensity of their shared vision and comprehensiveness of their
collaboration were perhaps most tellingly
witnessed by a six-year-old girl, who in advanced age told MacKintosh
biographer Alistair Moffat:
couldn't have an ordinary key. The door had a special plate and
to open that interesting door of the new School of Art there had to be
a proper key and that key had to be laid on a cushion, and they
couldn't have just bought a Victorian cushion for a MacKintosh
key. So Margaret made a cushion for the formal opening of the
school - a small, oblong, pale, pearly silk cushion with a silver
fringe. I remember the key quite clearly now, shining pale in this
grey afternoon ...
The 'new' Glascow School of Art
(now called the MacKintosh Building)
In the view of experts, Modernism was born here.
It happened on a
miserly budget ... just £14,000 to start off ... and at a lugubrious pace.
Since further funds had to be raised, more than a dozen years passed
between initial design in 1896 and completion of phased
construction. During this period almost every
notable MacKintosh structure took form, but the GSA was his
masterpiece. The east wing opened in 1899, including the
director's office, a boardroom and a skylit museum; the two-story
library, redesigned with Margaret's input, was built in
1906; and the dramatically windowed west wing went up between 1907 and
1909. At the outset, Charles was barely out of school: a
lowly draftsman assigned the dreary jobs such as this was expected to
be. In 1904, still long before the project ended, he was made a
||Entrants vying for this contract were asked for a 'plain' building and Charles did
focus on utility. Industrial bay windows flood studios with the white
northern light artists need and their steel brackets supply easy
footing for glass cleaners, who have only to position a board.
On the higher-tech side, this is the world's first structure with air
conditioning integrated into its blueprint.
He was never a
Functionalist, however. As a self- declared Modernist and
Craftsman, he found inherent beauty not in functionality but in
surprising yet elegant forms and materials.
Helpfully, one of the judges
was on his precise wavelength: his friend and former mentor, Francis Newbery.
When only 30 years old and fresh from
London's cosmopolitan art scene in 1884, Newbery was named headmaster of the GSA.
He assumed the post soon after young
Charles began taking classes, and remained in it for more than 20
years ... during which he brought The Four together and encouraged them
to master a range of creative techniques, exhibit widely
and take an interest in the burgeoning Arts & Crafts movement
throughout Europe. Without Newbery, it's safe to say the Glasgow
Style would never have developed and no doubt he took pride, as well as
delight, in the group's accomplishments.
Some critics reviled the
new GSA building as prison-like, but Newberry grasped better than
anyone how well the block-long 'E' design suited the site, how the austere small-paned walls at east and west evoked
Scottish baronial towers and how the contrast of the spectacular north
wall with vast windows fronting a busy street represented the genesis of
something never seen before. Moreover, he must have been charmed
by the many and varied ornamental elements, such as Margaret's masterful
The Heart of the Rose.
in decorating construction ... not constructing decoration ...
but was passionate about both aspects. For the GSA's
exterior, he designed metalwork alive with stylized bees, ladybugs,
scarab beetles, leaves and flowers, and also modeled the plaque over
the main entrance with his own hands.
Organic motifs are
repeated indoors on furniture, stained glass, textiles and other
accents. While the interior
space is free of heavy Victorian frippery, it's a jeweled work of
The Heart of the Rose
by Margaret Macdonald MacKintosh
Detail from Frittilaria-Walberswick
1914 Watercolor, C. R.
students in 1902, Charles stated:
Art is the
flower. Life is the green leaf ... How beautiful life
is often, but think of the stupendous possibilities of the
Botanical references came to him fluently, based on frequent
country rambles in boyhood. A frail child, he was advised to take
plenty of exercise in open air. Often he took along a
sketchbook and gained knowledge of botany by drawing the
specimens he saw ... a pursuit he enjoyed also in maturity,
often while spending summer holidays in Suffolk with Newbery at
From an early age, Charles knew
himself destined for architecture and he paused on his walks to draw
local buildings, as well as plants. He must have reveled in the
tranquility of these excursions, being the youngest of 11 children housed by
their police officer father in a third-floor tenement apartment until
Charles was 10 years old and promotion to superintendent rank enabled
the senior MacKintosh to take up residence in the quiet suburb of
|Margaret, as a girl, enjoyed
rural pursuits on a grander scale. Born at
Newcastle-under-Lyme (which sounds like an inauspicious
beginning), she was settled nonetheless in one of
Staffordshire's greatest country houses by the age of 12.
In 1876 her
Glasgow-born father left engineering to serve as estate agent for the Heathcotes, a
wealthy family with extensive properties including 18th
century Chesterton Hall, where the Macdonalds moved. Her
|| Allegedly sited atop an ancient
Celtic stone circle, Chesterton Hall was steeped in legends which
no doubt fired her imagination. Both Margaret's early
art and Frances' show keen interest in symbolism, mythology and
Detractors attributed these works
to the Celtic Spook School ... a genre exemplified by the
poster at right and painting at left. Dating from her 29th
birthday on Fireworks Night of 1894, November 5 depicts
her as a morosely contemplative figure half-buried, upon whom sparks fall
like tears from shriveled female spirits. She had no notion
how soon her luck (and art) would change.
Etching by J. M. Aiken
Poster by Margaret with
Frances, her sister, and Herbert MacNair c. 1895
Margaret MacDonald MacKintosh
Mixed Media Miniature & Plaque of Metal martellée, c.
|Heady times ensued
almost from the moment of their marriage. While exhibiting with the Secessionists
in Vienna, they acquired friends among
the luminaries of Eastern Europe and her miniatures
incorporating substances like sandstone and pearl were
revelatory to Klimt. A significant commission was also
gained there: the Wandorfer Music Salon.
destroyed in World War
I. (The surviving panel from her Seven Princesses series
hangs in the Vienna Arts and Crafts Museum opposite works
by Klimt that reflect her influence.)
More international shows followed in
Berlin, Moscow and elsewhere. Their 1902 display in Turin was so highly acclaimed it
won an Italian knighthood for their mentor, Francis Newbery, who
personally selected the featured works and placed
Charles in charge of decorating the showrooms.
The Rose Boudoir, 1902
Turin International Exhibition
Meanwhile, at home, their
Cranston (aka Mrs. Cochrane) gave Charles authority over her third tea
room complex from its exterior down to the towels, spoons and uniforms.
He'd supplied murals for the first of her 'art tearooms,'
located on Buchanan Street. Later, with Margaret, he decorated and furnished the
second facility on Ingram Street. "Tea" being a meal in the
British Isles, these were really restaurants, offering far
more than a cuppa'. No alcohol was served, so respectable matrons
could meet in a setting of refinement ... all the more so, because
the new Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall (Scottish for
Willow Alley) included a gorgeous Room Deluxe
behind stained glass doors. Margaret's O Ye, All Ye Who
Walk in Willowood was created for that space.
Happily, we can still visit
these tearooms. Under the ownership of restaurateur Ann
Mulhern, The Willow has been recreated in its original location
and, next door to Kate's Buchanan Street site, two famous rooms
from her Ingram Street venue have also been
rebuilt. Another from Ingram Street, the
Ladies' Luncheon Room, was actually dismantled and rebuilt at
the Glasgow Art Gallery and
The Chinese Room
The Room de Luxe
||For the tea heiress Kate,
remodeled an 18th century home in suburban Glasgow.
Furnishings crafted for Hous'hill are
museum treasures now, this
1904 washstand at the Met being a superb example. Charles
fashioned it of oak,
lead, ceramic tile, colored glass and
Entrance to The Room
All Ye that Walk in Willowood, 1902
Margaret Macdonald MacKintosh
Other significant clients
William Davidson and Walter Blackie, who commissioned large residences:
Windyhill in Kilmacolm and The Hill House in Helensburgh,
overlooking the River Clyde.
MacKintosh's finest domestic creation, The Hill House ...
completed in 1904 for the Blackie family ... is timeless
in its elegance. It was conceived and crafted as a whole
including even the surrounding gardens, where trees were clipped
to his design, and is now a museum administered by The National
Also in museum care is
Charles and Margaret's own home from 1906 until 1914.
Painstakingly reconstructed, its hall, dining room, studio-drawing room and
main bedroom can be seen within the Hunterian Museum of the
University of Glasgow, which acquired the house and original furnishings
in 1946. The structure had to be demolished in 1963, being
threatened by subsidence and located next to land slated for
redevelopment. All salvageable fittings were removed and
incorporated into the replica, completed in 1981.
present sequence of rooms reflects that of 78 Southpark Avenue (originally 6
Florentine Terrace) and virtually the same views and natural
lighting effects could be duplicated, because the house stood
less than 350 feet away.
Besides furniture original
to the house,
the rooms contain bric à brac, carpets and curtains based on descriptions
of Mackintosh interiors of the period. Oddly,
the couple never built a residence of their own, but only
remodeled, so loss of the exterior was irrelevant.
The other house Charles and Margaret are best known for is one they
didn't live to see.
not built until the 1990's, this home was conceived almost
a century earlier, in response to a competition announced in
1901 by a Viennese magazine. The publisher's challenge was to design ' a
grand house in a thoroughly modern style.'
Portfolio cover for
Lithograph c. 1902
House for an Art Lover
and Margaret somehow didn't manage to meet the submission
deadline, so were disqualified from winning. Even so,
their drawings were awarded second prize and a special jury
prize for 'their pronounced personal quality, their novel
and austere form and the uniform configuration of interior and
The MacKintosh submission portfolio eventually came to life in two
locations, one in Japan and the other in Glasgow's Bellahouston
Park, where visitors can compare original documents with the
finished rooms. Complete with café and
a popular spot for weddings, conferences, concerts and other
the commercial/institutional side included two Glasgow newspapers. Designed in
1895 for the Herald and called The Lighthouse, the
structure at left was his first public commission It's now a center for
architectural studies, hosting workshops, lectures and other
events. At right is the Daily Record
office as rendered in 1901 with a dazzling surface of sculpted
sandstone and white-glazed brick. The drawing's
watercolor finish is also unique, since perspectives were then
worked only in black ink.
the latter, still an occupied office building, only the
original exterior survives.
The 1906 Scotland
Street School (below) was Charles' last major commission
in Glasgow. Greatly admired for its spiral
staircase, it's become a museum of early 20th century education.
Much of Martyrs' School, dating from 1895, can also be
seen, while portions are used as offices by Glasgow Museums
Scotland Street School
Glasgow churches are MacKintosh designs, by far the more important being Queen's Cross. Built between 1897 and 1899 to serve a poor neighborhood, it slotted into a cramped corner lot amid tenements and warehouses.
Within the asymmetrical exterior, a hulking sculptural mass that suggests a rock, the interior glows with abstract stained glass. At first it was to be called St. Matthew's, so there are details with a 'Matthew' theme ... plus usual Christian symbols and some that are offbeat: apples, bees and an astounding ship's hull of a ceiling. Banded with steel and barrel-vaulted, it's an Ark upside-down, reminiscent also of medieval barns.
The church ... now headquarters for the Charles Rennie MacKintosh Society ... also owes a considerable debt to Herbert Macnair, who was responsible for introducing his friend to the idea of symbolism in architecture.
Only stems and leaves adorn the pulpit and communion table, as
if to hint faith brings forth its own fruit and flowers.
Charles clearly felt at home with the
Queens Cross project, even though the institution was of the Free Church of Scotland chain, whereas his own religious
background was Catholic. Whatever his and Margaret's deepest
spiritual beliefs may have been ... perhaps principally in those
flowers' of art that can blossom above our everyday leaves ...
they sustained them when tested. The evidence is in the breathtaking
pictures they produced after other doors
closed to them.
Detail from The Mysterious
Garden Margaret Macdonald NacKintosh, 1911
During his depression
(termed a 'breakdown' by some sources), Margaret once again inspired
Charles to work in watercolor. She'd been doing so, herself, in
the absence of commissions requiring the large gesso and metal panels
she was known for.
While she retained her
interest in metaphysical subjects and was painting these in a more
mature style, he was always most fascinated by nature and created some of his loveliest flower
studies during this period, particularly on summer painting trips to
Walberswick in Suffolk.
Detail from Witch Hazel,
C. R. NacKintosh
Guest Room at Bassett-Lowke House
It was to Walberswick they
moved upon leaving Glasgow, but they were driven from
the vulnerable Suffolk coast at the start of World War I by officials
who thought they might collude with the German enemy. Relocated
to Chelsea in London, they attempted to re-establish themselves in the
professional world. Mainly they
created textiles for manufacturers such as Sexton of Belfast and William
Foxton, who offered avant-garde fabrics in London, since architectural and decorative commissions
were scarce in wartime. They did design a fourth tearoom for Kate ... the
'Dug-Out' ... and produced dramatic interiors for a client in
Whynne Bassett-Lowke home, a bold new style asserted itself with primary
and geometric motifs that anticipated Art Deco. When
as a guest, George Bernard Shaw was given the bedroom room shown and asked
if the decor would trouble his sleep, he replied, "No. I sleep
with my eyes shut."
Shaw's was an attitude all too
typical among the British in those days. By 1920, Charles had
abandoned hope of resuming his architectural career and, in 1923, he and
Margaret abandoned England to settle in the French Pyrenees, occupying a
hotel room in the Languedoc village of Port-Vendres. Nonetheless,
it isn't despair we see in their late paintings.
Opera of the Sea (date uncertain)
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh
La Rue de Soleil Port-Vendres,
C. R. Mackintosh
||Charles' last architectural design,
unrealized, was for an artists' studio complex in Chelsea.
in 1920, it looks just as modern today.