June 7th was the birthday of Scottish architect and painter Charles Rennie Mackintosh, born in 1868 in Glasgow. Like Louis Sullivan, his is one of those great stories of a great talent at the right place, at the right time, with a bit of a tragic ending. Working largely in booming Glasgow, Mackintosh was able to execute a number of amazing buildings, creating a robust style of architecture that combined early Modernist ideas with traditional Scottish baronial architecture.
All of his buildings are firmly rooted to the earth, using masonry in fairly traditional architectonics, but inventing a kind of plasticity with decorative elements that marked a radical departure from traditional forms. Of note is that many of his decorative designs and furnishings were the work of his supremely talented wife, Margaret Macdonald.
And maybe as influential as his buildings are his drawings and watercolors.
Mackintosh and his wife Margaret met while students at evening classes in the Glasgow School of Art. Margaret’s sister Frances, and Mackintosh’s fellow intern Herbert MacNair, also attended and later wed, and the two couples become known as The Four, the most influential members of the Glasgow School movement. Not enough can be said about that kind of intense collaboration and its necessity in the forging and support of talent and ideas. Individual geniuses do exist, but rarely can you delve back into their history and not discover influential and inspirational colleagues, parents, and family.
The Glasgow School of Art is probably his best and most well-known work, a staggering feat of complete interior design and architecture. Won in a competition with twelve other local firms, and radical for its time, it is still clearly part of the landscape of Scottish architecture and the traditions of masonry and sculptural building. Mackintosh’s difficult and obsessive nature increasing lead to problems and this building, his best, marks the start of his decline.
After failing to find commissions, Mackintosh and Margaret eventually moved to France and although beautiful, his paintings are his only work of this final period of his life.
Happy Birthday, Charles Rennie Mackintosh – a somewhat sad life with magnificent achievements, lasting architecture that continues to inspire in its ability to project into the future while reflecting its past.
(gotta get that tie!)
images from Charles Rennie Mackintosh by Charlotte & Peter Fiell and Charles Rennie Mackintosh edited by Wendy Kaplan