Charles Rennie Mackintosh is Scotland’s most celebrated architect of the 20th century, remembered today for his Art Nouveau creations. Mackintosh was born in Glasgow in 1868. From his youth, he would draw and sketch, often botanical inspired works thanks to his father’s vegetable garden that Charles helped tend. The family, with seven children surviving past infancy, moved to Glasgow’s residential suburbs where Mackintosh had his own room for the first time, touching up aspects of their new home from a young age.
Mackintosh began his formal training as an apprentice to architect John Hutchinson and took evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art from the age of 15 to 25. He trained as a painter under the school’s director, Francis Newberry, who encouraged Mackintosh to architecture. Mackintosh was awarded the Alexander Thomson Travelling Scholarship in 1890, which led him on an architectural tour of Italy.
Upon his return to Glasgow, Mackintosh was offered a job with the prestigious architectural firm Honeyman and Keppie. This job allowed him to explore his own philosophies and experiment with decorative forms (such as furniture and graphic arts). His colleague and friend Hervert MacNair as well as his future wife and fellow student Margaret MacDonald and her sister Frances, partnered with Mackintosh and formed a group of progressive artists and architects who became known as “The Four”.
In 1896, Mackintosh was commissioned to design a new building for the Glasgow School of Art. Disappointingly, Keppie was introduced as the main architect for the project in 1899, though it was Mackintosh’s first major work and achievement. Despite being snubbed at home, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was well-received on the European continent. In Germany, and more so in Austria, he gained the recognition he never received in Scotland. He participated in exhibitions such as the Vienna Secession as well as others in cities such as Moscow and Turin.
In Glasgow, Mackintosh had a handful of clients and patrons. His well-known commissions include a series of tea rooms for businesswoman Catherine Cranston and the Hill House, a family home for William Blackie. As his works were primarily “total design” of home and interior, clients were often unwilling to complete this level of work with Mackintosh. This included his hallmark Art Nouveau high-back, low-seated chairs.
The beginning of the First World War severely restricted building work and impacted Mackintosh’s output.
Finding work became difficult, even after a move to London, so Charles and Margaret moved to the South of France in 1923. Reinvigorated, Mackintosh painted the landscape that surrounded him, returning to his young love of natural forms.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh died in London in 1928, supposedly holding a pencil, showing his dedication to his work. Mackintosh is remembered for his innovative, minimal, Japanese-inspired aesthetic. His tea rooms and “total design”, where a holistic and humanistic approach to architecture meant that even the tiniest detail impacted the whole, inspired later architects. He is known as a leader of modernist architecture as well as Art Nouveau design.