Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Or: Not Just a Pretty Font
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, in addition to being always referred to by his full name, was a notable Glaswegian architect and designer, and a slighly less notable Glaswegian painter. He rose to obscurity in the early part of the 20th Century, his work being generally unappreciated until years after his death.
While alive, he rebelled against the predominant movement of superficial stylism, using rectilinear structures and subtle curves. Probably why he wasn't much liked in generally conservative England.
But I'm getting a bit ahead of the story.
First Things First
Not much to report of his early childhood--let's just say he was thinking.
On the Make
CRM got started on his career quite early, fleeing his overcrowded home to go to an arts school. So much for practicality.
The 'Spook' School
The Four's collaborative efforts in metalwork, illustration, and furniture design is influenced by the style of Aubrey Beardsley. Often bizarre abstract imagery and metamorphic lines are incorporated into their work.
In England, at the time, these Scottish imports were scaring the normals. Art nouveau, though gaining in popularity on the Continent, was still a non-non across the Channel, and CRM's influential contributions to it were viewed through suspicious eyes.
Though that didn't stop him building buildings.
The bulk of CRM's architectural achievements came in a relatively brief though undoubtedly intense burst of creative output; he worked hard through the turn of the century, getting his first major gig at the age of 28.
Despite all of these domestic successes, he still wasn't too well thought of in the UK. Continentally, they loved him--his room at the Turin Intemational Exhibition in 1902 opened to enthusiastic support, and he was invited to exhibit in Moscow, Berlin, and Vienna.
Perhaps he should have moved there. But instead, he sat about for ten years wondering why these backwards yahoos wouldn't get with the times.
Architecture didn't reward Mackintosh, if he rewarded it, and the end of his career sees more done by him in watercolor than blueprint.
- 1914: He moves to Suffolk with his wife, to paint--her original medium.
- 1916: 78 Derngate in Northampton is more or less his last architectural effort--summing up everything he knew and loved about the art. There were a few smaller commissions as well in the city, but CRM by this time had pretty much lost interest--and faith--in contemporary sensibilities.
- 1923: The pair take up residence in Port Vendres, France, and essentially stay out of everyone's way. He produces his best paintings at this time, though he'll never be known for them.
- 1927: On to London, likely the last place this man should want to go. And appropriately, the last place he did go. He died the following year of cancer.
What We Make of Him Now
He was the most memorable Scottish architect of his age, beyond doubt, and in recent years the nation has come to embrace him as a Fountainhead of architectural art nouveau and European Modernism. His unwillingness to compromise in the 'total design' of a house has since earned him acclaim where it once made him undesirable, and now you can hardly walk into a gift shop in Britain without encountering one of his trademark designs, fashioned into some trinket or other: the Mackintosh font, and the Mackintosh rose.
Another visionary dies penniless while the world plays catch-up.
Curvilinear motifs to: