Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Dafato Team | Apr 1, 2023

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a British architect, designer and watercolorist born on June 7, 1868 in Glasgow, Scotland and died on December 10, 1928 in London. He is the main representative of the Glasgow School, a current from the Arts & Crafts movement, which will influence the Modern Style movement, Anglo-Saxon counterpart of the Art Nouveau style.

He formed a group of artists known as The Four at the Glasgow School of Art. This movement spoke out against the excesses of industrialization. Through his creations, Mackintosh advocated a return to medieval lines via the neo-Gothic style and the study of natural motifs.

As an architect, he designed several remarkable buildings, including the Willow Rooms tea room and the Scotland Street School in Glasgow, and the Hill House residence in Helensburgh. He also designed the new building for the Glasgow School of Art, built between 1897 and 1909, with which he gained international recognition and which remains in history as his major work. He also worked with his wife Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh (1864-1933) to design interiors with original furniture and decorative panels.

In the mid-1920s, the couple moved to the south of France, to the Pyrenees-Orientales, where Charles Rennie Mackintosh devoted himself to painting. In 1927, suffering from cancer of the tongue, he returned to London where he died the following year, ruined and in general indifference.

The first years

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born on June 7, 1868 at 70 Parson Street in Glasgow. He was the fourth of eleven children and the second son of William Mackintosh, Commissioner of the Glasgow Police and his wife, Margaret Rennie. He spent his childhood in his native city, notably in the East End and then in the suburb of Dennistoun.

Mackintosh was born with a congenital foot defect that gave him a limp. A muscle chill from a soccer match left his right eyelid drooping. His frail health nevertheless allowed him to cultivate his curiosity, fueled by long walks in the Scottish countryside from which he drew many sketches. Mackintosh wanted to become an architect.

In 1886, he began an apprenticeship with the architect John Hutchinson. He also attended evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. He was an excellent student and won two prizes in competitions organized by the institution. After completing his apprenticeship with John Hutchinson, he joined the architectural firm of Honeyman & Keppie in 1889. Hired as a draftsman, he quickly became an indispensable collaborator and was made a partner in 1904, working on important projects such as the offices of one of Glasgow's newspapers, The Herald, commonly known as The Lighthouse. In this project, carried out from 1893 to 1895, he defined the first outlines of his Arts & Crafts inspired style, that is to say, sober and without embellishment.

In 1891, he won the "Alexander-Thomson" scholarship which allowed him to tour Europe to study ancient architecture.

The Glasgow style

At the Glasgow School of Art, Charles Mackintosh joined the Glasgow Boys, a group of students who participated in exhibitions. In Scotland, their work was not well received. The critics earned them the nickname "The Spook School" (literally, "The School of Weirdness"). In 1890, they exhibited in London at the Grosvenor Gallery and received a more favorable reception. This was followed by the Munich Secession exhibition of 1892, where their avant-garde creations appealed to the Germans. During this period, Mackintosh became friends with James Herbert MacNair, one of the Glasgow Boys. He also met Margaret MacDonald and her sister Frances MacDonald. Mackintosh, MacNair and the MacDonald sisters became known as "The Four. They held a series of exhibitions: in Liege for their first joint show in 1895, in Glasgow and in London at the Arts & Crafts Society in 1896. In 1899, MacNair married Frances MacDonald.

In 1900, the four artists were invited to Vienna for the Vienna Secession exhibition. They exhibited various elements of interior architecture: furniture, textiles and painted panels. This event helped establish Mackintosh and his colleagues' reputation. Big names acclaimed the "Glasgow School" style, such as the German architect Hermann Muthesius, who became one of Mackintosh's most fervent supporters. Secessionists Josef Hoffmann and Gustav Klimt would assume the influence of the Group of Four on their future designs.

As a result of this success, Charles Mackintosh won interior design contracts from Austrian and German clients. Fritz Wärndorfer, a great patron of the Wiener Werkstätte, a guild of craftsmen from the secessionist movement, was in Glasgow on business and met with some representatives of the Glasgow School, including the Mackintoshes, on the advice of Hoffmann. He ordered a music room for his Viennese house. Charles furnished the place with furniture of his own creation. This music room has the particularity of being all white with some touches of lilac and pink. In 1906 Margaret designed the masterpiece of the room, a triptych of gesso panels entitled the Seven Princesses. The place became a sensation. The critic Ludwig Hevesi noted that the salon was "a place of spiritual delight.

On June 14, 1900, Charles Mackintosh married Margaret MacDonald in Dumbarton, near Glasgow. From the beginning of their collaboration, much of his work blended his own style with his wife's softer, more floral style, enhancing his more formal, rectilinear work. Like his contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mackintosh's architectural designs often included important details about the decoration and furnishings of his buildings. Mackintosh gradually developed a new style, moving away from Arts & Crafts influences. His designs turned to nature and its floral patterns with soft curves, such as the "Mackintosh rose" pattern, with references to traditional Scottish architecture.

Major architectural projects

In parallel with his European exhibitions and the resulting commissions, Charles Rennie Mackintosh continued to practice his profession as an architect. He executed architectural projects under the direction of Honeyman & Keppie. From 1896, he was able to fully exploit his creativity, which was expressed in projects such as the construction of the new Glasgow School of Art and Catherine Cranston's tea rooms.

In 1896, he met Miss Cranston, the name by which this Glaswegian businesswoman is known. She was a militant of the temperance leagues against alcohol. To this end, she wished to open a number of tea rooms. Mackintosh was hired to design the murals for her new tea room on Buchanan Street. The building housing the business was renovated by George Washington Browne. Mackintosh stenciled the friezes in the ladies' tea room, the dining room and the smoking room. George Henry Walton was responsible for the interior design and furniture. For the Argyle Street Tea Room, the roles were reversed: Mackintosh designed the furniture and interiors, and Walton did the murals. He made high-backed chairs to isolate customers and create separation in the space. In 1900, Miss Cranston asked him to redesign a room in her Ingram Street salon.

In 1903 he started the Willow Tearooms. He was solely responsible for the project and Catherine Cranston gave him a great deal of creative freedom. Charles Rennie Mackintosh redesigned the exterior façade in an asymmetrical composition, modeled with shallow curves in some areas. He also created recesses of varying depths for the windows and the main entrance. The composition is in harmony with the neighboring buildings by adapting to the lines of the cornices, while exploring the emerging ideas of Art Nouveau and the Modern Movement. The interior is entirely designed by Charles and Margaret: floors, carpets, furniture, decorative panels, lighting, etc. The major piece of the project is the "luxury room" for its rich decorations and white furniture. This tea room incorporates many of the same ideas that Mackintosh and Macdonald have used in the design of other projects, including the use of dark and light materials to give the different rooms a more masculine or feminine character.

In 1897, Charles Rennie Mackintosh began construction of the Glasgow School of Art. It all began the previous year when its director, Francis H. Newbery, launched a fundraising campaign for a new school. This led to the launch of a competition to which twelve Glasgow architectural firms responded. Mackintosh proposed his project through the firm of Honeyman & Keppie. He was chosen on January 13, 1897 by the school's board of directors. Newbery, knowing Mackintosh as a student, strongly influenced the final decision. Work on the first phase of the project, the east wing and asymmetrical entrance, took two years. The school, partially built, was inaugurated on December 20, 1899. The rest of the project was behind schedule and well over the original budget. After the plans for the west wing were revised, it was built between 1907 and 1909. Inaugurated in its final version on December 15, 1909, the final building is quite striking. It incorporates all the influences of Mackintosh, Arts & Crafts, Modern style, Scottish baronial without forgetting the technical innovations with notably the monumental bay windows which decorate the north façade of the building. The building is considered by many modern critics as his masterpiece.

Glaswegian publisher Walter Blackie and his wife visited Windy Hill, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's first residential project. Convinced by the architect's creativity, the couple wanted to commission him to design their future villa at Helensburgh in the Argyll and Bute region. The design of the villa was largely inspired by the "House for an Art Lover" project of 1901. With a less internationalized style than the German project, his favorite inspirations are Scottish baronial and Arts & Crafts. Charles Mackintosh supervised the construction of the building from 1902 to 1903.

In 1903, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was commissioned to build the Scotland Street School, a school located in the Kingston district of Glasgow. The specifications were very strict, and the architect had to design this establishment with 21 classrooms for 1,250 students for a budget of 15,000 pounds sterling. The building blends the Scottish baronial style with resolutely modern elements. Mackintosh's design was inspired by the medieval castles of Rowallan in East Ayrshire and Falkland Palace. The building has huge windows on its façade and its two stair towers. This type of monumental windows was taken up by the architects of the German modern movement in their designs for industrial buildings in the following decade. Funding caused regular tensions between Mackintosh and the board of trustees. The total cost of the school, which opened in 1906, was £34,291, well over budget.

In the early 20th century, Mackintosh participated in a number of exhibitions and competitions.

In 1901, a competition was organized by the Zeitschrift für Innendekoration, a German interior design magazine. Charles Rennie Mackintosh participated, but due to a delay in submitting some required plans, was disqualified. . Nevertheless, his study received a special mention as one of the best proposals. Hermann Muthesius, the architect and future founder of the Deutscher Werkbund movement, said of the project: "The exterior architecture of the building is of great originality and fundamentally innovative. There is no trace of the conventional forms of architecture, to which the artist remains totally indifferent. The building remained in the planning stage for decades, but in the early 1990s it was built in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park according to Mackintosh's original plans by Graham Roxburgh.

In 1902, Mackintosh and his wife participated in the first international exhibition of modern decorative art in Turin, invited by Newbery to represent the Glasgow School of Art. Frances MacDonald and James Herbert MacNair and Dresden were also present. He presents a bedroom, Margaret contributing by designing the textiles. The same year, he also participated in a competition launched for the construction of Liverpool Cathedral, but failed to win against Giles Gilbert Scott.

The end of the golden period

At the turn of the 1910s, Charles Rennie Mackintosh's business was in decline. Commissions were scarce and Scotland was suffering from an economic crisis. In addition, despite good reviews, the Scots had little taste for the architect's original and avant-garde style. He was also prone to alcohol problems and his strong character frightened away the agency's clientele. In 1913, for the Jordanhill School competition, he proposed an unworkable project and John Keppie was forced to submit the project of another colleague. Following this setback, Mackintosh resigned in anger.

The following year the Mackintoshes moved temporarily to the village of Walberswick (en) in Suffolk, in the east of England. Here Charles painted many landscapes and flower studies (often in collaboration with Margaret, whose style Mackintosh increasingly adopted).

During World War I, the government prohibited the construction of houses. In 1915, Wenman J. Bassett-Lowke bought the house at 78 Derngate in Northampton. The following year he commissioned Mackintosh to modify it. The exterior alterations were mainly carried out at the rear, with the first floor being enlarged and balconies added for the bedrooms on the upper floors, in a decidedly modern style. Inside, the architect created an Art Deco habitat before its time, both in terms of furniture and geometric wall motifs.

Beginning in 1915 Charles Rennie Mackintosh was commissioned by two major English textile manufacturers, Foxton's and Sefton's, to design fabrics. These textile pieces were intended to be mass-produced. At first he drew repetitive stylized floral motifs, then his creations, always inspired by nature, became more abstract and free. In 1923 he put an end to these collaborations.

The last years

In 1923, Charles Mackintosh having inherited his mother's estate, the couple decided to leave England and spent their vacations in the Roussillon region of France at Amélie-les-Bains. During the summer of 1924 they lived in Collioure, and during the winters of 1925-1926 and 1926-1927 at the Hotel Le Commerce in Port-Vendres. Charles Mackintosh was able to devote himself to what he now considered his principal art, painting. He painted many watercolor landscapes of the Pyrenees-Orientales where the couple lived.

In 1927, he began to experience swelling and blisters on his tongue. The Mackintoshes left for London in the fall. After examination, he was diagnosed with tongue cancer. Due to a lack of money, he delayed going to the hospital. Despite the radium treatment, his health deteriorated. He progressively lost the use of speech. Once again hospitalized, Charles Rennie Mackintosh died on December 10, 1928 at the clinic at 26 Porchester Square at the age of 60. He was cremated at Golders Green crematorium and his ashes were scattered in the waters of Port Vendres by Margaret according to her last wishes.


In 1933, a commemorative exhibition was dedicated to him in Glasgow. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is organizing a retrospective exhibition of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work from November 21, 1996 to February 16, 1997. The exhibition is accompanied by lectures and a symposium led by Mackintosh specialists, including Pamela Robertson of the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, gallery owner Roger Billcliffe and architect J. Stewart Johnson. Documentary films about Mackintosh are also shown. In 2018 the exhibition "Charles Rennie Mackintosh - Making the Glasgow Style" is held at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum for the 150th anniversary of his birth. The Lighthouse, Glasgow's cultural center and museum dedicated to design and architecture, includes a permanent exhibition on Mackintosh.

Originally built at 6 Florentine Terrace, the townhouse inhabited by the Mackintosh couple from 1906 to 1914 was demolished in the 1960s following a landslide. The building was rebuilt a hundred meters away in the 1980s, adjacent to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery. The interior is furnished with Mackintosh designs according to period photographs. The building can be visited via the museum.

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, established in 1973, seeks to encourage greater awareness of Mackintosh's work and his importance as an architect, artist, stylist and designer. Since 1999, the Society has been based in Glasgow's Queen's Cross Church, built in the late 19th century by Mackintosh.

In France, in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales, where he lived part of his life, there are places that house rooms dedicated to the architect. The Centre d'Art du Dôme in Port-Vendres, the fortified house in Belesta and the museum in Amélie-les-Bains-Palalda each host a permanent exhibition of Mackintosh's work. These places are managed by the French section of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is one of the figures commemorated on a series of banknotes issued by Clydesdale Bank in 2009, with his effigy appearing on a £100 bill. In 2012, one of the largest collections of artworks by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Four was sold at auction in Edinburgh for £1.3 million.


During his lifetime Charles Rennie Mackintosh was involved in many fields. As an architect, decorator, furniture, textile and ironwork designer, he quickly developed a unique style by combining the different influences that were emerging at the time. Mackintosh created a fusion between traditional vernacular elements and modernism. He created a break with the Victorian style by abandoning the overabundance of decoration.

Although not very popular in his native Scotland, he was relatively successful outside the United Kingdom. Locally, Mackintosh's personality and budget overruns often created friction with patrons and other boards. In addition, his avant-garde designs were not always understood by the public. Criticism of his style was often strong. It was not until 1933 that a retrospective exhibition rehabilitated his work in his native city.

During his European exhibitions, he influenced emerging architectural movements such as the Vienna Secession and the Deutscher Werkbund. His creativity is much more recognized there than in Scotland and the response is much greater. Forerunners of post-modernism, some of the principles developed by Mackintosh were later taken up by European modernists as in the buildings of the Bauhaus movement.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is now a major attraction in the city of Glasgow. The rediscovery of Mackintosh as an important figure in the city was aided by Glasgow's designation as European Capital of Culture in 1990. As a result of this event, Mackintosh's work was exhibited for a whole year. Since then, his popularity has been sustained by multiple exhibitions and books that illustrate aspects of his life and work. The renewed public interest has also led to the renovation and opening to the public of other buildings, such as the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, or the construction of projects that the architect was unable to complete, such as the House for an Art Lover.

The role of his wife, Margaret, is also noteworthy. She had a huge influence on his interior design. Mackintosh wrote of her, "Don't forget that you are half if not three-quarters of all my work..." He is similarly quoted as saying, "Margaret has genius, I have only talent."

Listed below are most of the buildings built or designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh that are listed in Scotland and England.


: document used as a source for the writing of this article.


  1. Charles Rennie Mackintosh
  2. Charles Rennie Mackintosh
  3. Charles change l’orthographe de son patronyme pour des raisons inconnues, tout comme son père l'a fait avant lui, de « McIntosh » en « Mackintosh » aux alentours de 1893. Cf. (en) Wendy Kaplan, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Abbeville Press, 1996, 384 p. (ISBN 978-1-55859-791-4), p. 19.
  4. La précédente école se situait aux galeries Halls sur Sauchiehall Street.
  5. ^ James Steele; Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1994). Charles Rennie Mackintosh: synthesis in form. Academy Editions. ISBN 9781854903839. Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born on 7 June 1868 at 70 Parson Street, next to the Martyrs' School in the Townhead district of Glasgow. His father, Wiliam McIntosh, married to Margaret Rennie, was a police superintendent, and there were 11 children in the family, living in a flat on the top floor of a three-storey tenement. 1n 1878, a promotion made it possible for the family to move to No 2 Firpark Terrace, Dennistown, further out from the city
  6. ^ Ellis Woodman, 1 March 2015, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: 'Glasgow's very own architectural genius', The Daily Telegraph
  7. ^ Kaplan, Wendy(ed.). Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Abbeville Press, 1996. ISBN 0-7892-0080-5. page 19.
  8. ^ a b Stamp, Gavin. Toshie Trashed, The London Review of Books, 19 June 2014. Pages 37–38.
  9. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions". Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  10. ^ (EN) Margaret Macdonald, su URL consultato l'11 giugno 2022 (archiviato dall'url originale il 16 febbraio 2010).

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