Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 – 1928) was born in Glasgow on 7 June 1868. Charles began his career as an architect with an apprenticeship to local architect John Hutchison, but in 1889 he transferred to the larger, more established city practice of Honeyman and Keppie. To complement his architectural apprenticeship, Charles enrolled for evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art where he pursued various drawing programmes. He won numerous student prizes and competitions including the prestigious Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship in 1890 that allowed him to undertake an architectural tour of Italy.
Back in Glasgow, Charles designs for the Glasgow Herald Building (1894) incorporated cutting-edge technology including a hydro-pneumatic lift and fire-resistant diatomite concrete flooring. At a public lecture on architecture in 1893, Charles argued that architects and designers be given greater artistic freedom and independence. He then began to experiment with a range of decorative forms, producing designs for furniture, metalwork and the graphic arts (including highly stylised posters and water colours), often in partnership with his friend and colleague at Honeyman and Keppie, Herbert MacNair, and two fellow students, Margaret and Frances Macdonald.
In 1896 Charles gained his most substantial commission, to design a new building for the Glasgow School of Art. This was to be his masterwork. A delay in funding allowed Charles, stylistically the opportunity to amend and fully integrate his original design which owed much to Scotland’s earlier baronial tradition with a second half to the building that looked very much to the 20th century through its use of materials and technology. Most dramatic of all the interiors was the new Library which was a complex space of timber posts and beams. In Europe the originality of Charles style was quickly appreciated and, particularly in Austria, he received the acclaim and recognition for his designs that he was never truly to gain at home.
Back in Scotland at The Hill House in Helensburgh (1904), the publisher Walter Blackie commissioned Mackintosh to design a substantial family home. Externally, The Hill House was notable for it’s simple and solid massed forms with little ornamentation, yet internally the rooms exuded light and space, and the use of colour and decoration were carefully conceived. Glasgow businesswoman Catherine Cranston was one of Charles most influential patrons and her series of tearoom interiors provided him with a virtual freedom to provide their ‘total design’: furniture (including the dramatic high-back chairs), light fittings, wall decorations and even the cutlery.
Despite success in Europe and the support of clients such as Blackie and Cranston, Mackintosh’s work met with considerable indifference at home and his career soon declined. By 1914 Charles despaired of ever receiving the level of recognition in Glasgow that he felt he deserved and he resigned from his practice and, with his wife Margaret MacDonald, moved to London. This was unfortunate timing, for with the onset of the First World War, all building work was severely restricted and adventurous plans for a suite of artists’ studios and a theatre were never built. A move to the South of France in 1923 signalled the end of Charles three-dimensional career and the last years of his life were spent painting. He died in London on 10 December 1928.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society: