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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Scottish Architect, Designer, and Painter

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Photo
Movements and Styles: Art Nouveau, The Vienna Secession, Symbolism

Born: June 7th, 1868 - Glasgow, Scotland

Died: December 10th, 1928 - London, England

"We must clothe modern ideas with modern dress."

Summary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh

A close friend of his once said, "the creations of Mackintosh breathe", and as such likened the architect to a prophet giving life to the otherwise ordinary and inanimate. Self-consciously understated, and in the same key as a simple monastery or a white cube contemporary art gallery, both the interior and exterior spaces designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh sing of serenity, spirituality, and of rigorous attention to detail. Although an architect working with colossal and hard materials, he typically brought intimacy and softness to all that he designed and built. His symbolist architectural style is one infused with the restraint and minimalism of Japonism, as well as fine delicacy and a love for floral motifs shared with his long-term partner and artistic collaborator, Margaret Macdonald.

As the visionary architect responsible for its re-design and re-build, Mackintosh not only transformed The Glasgow School of Art into world-renowned academy, but also put Scotland firmly on the map as a center of creativity and hub for art and design. His most intense work period lay between 1896-1910 - designing buildings, as well as all types of furniture and other decorative features - but he also drew and painted until his final days. Like his European counterparts, including Gustav Klimt, Mackintosh integrated a multitude of curves with straight lines but did so without the same ostentation, opulence, and grandeur. In 1900, he was invited to present an installation at the 8th Secessionist Exhibition in Vienna and following his display he was appropriately acknowledged as one of the foremost designers in Europe.

Key Ideas

Mackintosh worked in close collaboration with his wife Margaret Macdonald, his friend Herbert MacNair, and his wife's sister Frances Macdonald (who was married to MacNair); together they were known as "The Four". They developed The Glasgow Style that was similar in intent to William Morris and The Arts and Crafts Movement, believing in the "total design", that is the creation of every aspect of an interior including furniture, metalwork, and stained glass.
Interestingly, although European Modernist contemporaries said that they sought to break with tradition, lavish materials often pointed back to the wealth and elitism from which they wished to dis-associate. Mackintosh on the other hand, achieved a humble simplicity in design - both for the exterior and the interior furnishings of buildings - and sought for, above all, integrity of materials and harmony of space. Indeed, taste not wealth was always a key focus for Mackintosh.
Aside from being a highly imaginative visionary architect and interior designer, Mackintosh in his later years became an avid painter of flowers. Interestingly, fellow modernist, Piet Mondrian was also a prolific flower painter as an aside to his famous primarily color abstractions. The act of painting flowers well exposes an artist's intention, that of a manmade attempt to capture the exquisite perfection of nature.
Although Mackintosh himself ironically stated that part of his impetus to create art was to make something "more lasting than life itself", it seems that in many ways his career gives insight into the opposite message. The fact that most of Mackintosh's designs were never materialized, and furthermore, that recently one of his greatest buildings has been irrecoverably damaged by fire raises the poignant question as to whether anything can, or should, exist eternally. This debate is particularly current as impermanence is a topic that is in vogue throughout modern art, for example, the contemporary sculptor Urs Fischer makes larger-than-life figures into candles and lets them melt away.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Photo

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was the fourth of eleven children, and one of seven to survive infancy, born to parents Margaret Rennie and William Mackintosh. His father was a policeman whilst his mother was usually bedridden due to being so often pregnant, recovering from birth, or unwell. Mackintosh's large - mainly female - family was tight knit and lavished him with love and affection. The family's first tenement was situated on Parson Street overlooking the gothic Glasgow Necropolis; their father tended a vegetable garden and such became an early influence on Mackintosh who developed an avid interest in organic and botanical form and growth. From a young age Mackintosh did lots of drawing and used his sketchbooks as a way to withdraw from the world and to manage difficulties understanding the emotions of others as well as his own outbursts of rage. Also during childhood, Mackintosh was afflicted with rheumatic fever; this resulted in a droop on one side of his face and developed into a signature feature of his appearance.

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