Homage to The Amazing Mr Mackintosh.

Posted on May 14, 2011 by

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Victor Horta, son of a shoe maker, designed the wonderful Hôtel Tassel in Brussels (1893). The King of Belgium made him a Baron for services to architecture. Four of Horta’s buildings are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, son of a policeman, designed the equally wonderful Glasgow School of Art (1900). It’s doubtful the British Royal family had ever heard of him let alone honour him with a title. None of Mackintosh’s buildings are UNESCO World Heritage sites. He died forgotten and unacknowledged in poverty.

Never mind what you thought you knew about Charles Rennie Mackintosh, discover him for yourself. Go to Glasgow. Now. This minute. But not before you download a self-guided walk from The CRM Society. If you see nothing else visit The Glasgow School of Art and The Willow Tea Rooms in the city centre and make the pilgrimage to see his Hill House forty minutes drive away.

Staff in the tea rooms are wonderful, more than happy for punters to take photographs. Not so in the School of Art or, sadly, Hill House. Unlike The National Trust in England, the Scottish National Trust has a blanket ban. This is a pity because the BF is on Flickr and many of its thirty six million or more subscribers world wide use the site to find interesting places to visit.

The Mackintosh story is, in many ways, almost too sad to write about. Born in a Glasgow tenement, fourth of eleven children, his beginnings – and indeed his end – were not good. He was born lame and dyslexic. His face was asymmetrical and one eye drooped. Considered backward he poured his energy into his one passion, drawing. He drew everything. And anythingWhen the poky flat became too cramped for the growing family of Mr McIntosh – note the spelling- he was allocated a bigger one. This one came with a plot of earth he called The Garden of Eden. Charles drew plants all his life.

At fifteen he became interested in architecture and persuaded his father to apprentice him to a local practice. Working all day he spent his evenings at art school. His talent shone through from the beginning but he received no recognition from the partners. He came from the wrong side of the tracks. They took all the credit. Bad feelings deteriorated further when he fell in love with Margaret MacDonald, a gifted art student, and broke off his engagement to the sister of one of the partners. The atmosphere became so sour Mackintosh set up his on own practice but this was 1913, war was in the air. The building trade collapsed along with his business.

He and Margaret were invited by friends to stay at their house in Suffolk. Mackintosh never returned to Glasgow, the scene of all his triumphs, where his architecture with its distinctive decorative thumb print gave birth to The Glasgow Style. For those unable to make the trek to Glasgow despair not. Mackintosh’s last major architectural commission was 78 Derngate in Northampton (again, sadly, no photography allowed).

Charles and his beloved Margaret were very happy in Suffolk until the day they returned home from a walk to find uniformed police going through their belongings. Revered in Austria and Germany, they were corresponding with friends there. Accused of being spies they were ordered to leave. Despondent and disillusioned with their own country they moved to France returning to London to die. In obscurity.

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Photography copyright Mark Playle

Posted in: Art, Article