Thursday, June 07, 2007

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh -- architect, designer and painter -- was born on this day in 1868 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Mackintosh studied at the Glasgow School of Art and in Italy (obtaining a solid grounding in the Arts-and-Crafts style) before joining with his soon-to-be-wife Margaret, her sister Frances and friend Herbert McNair (known collectively as "The Four," "The Mac Group," the "Glasgow School" or the "Spook School") to produce posters and decorative pieces, marked by an Art Nouveau-inspired calligraphic style but without the exaggerated floral motifs.

His architectural work, beginning in the 1890s (Glasgow Herald tower, 1893; Queen Margaret's Medical College, 1894-6; Martyr's Public School, 1895; Glasgow School of Art, 1897-1909; Hill House, Helensburgh, 1902-3), is a departure from out-and-out Art Nouveau, seeming to be more of a class with Louis Sullivan's view that "form follows function"; in Mackintosh's own words, architecture needed to be more than "a mere envelope without contents." In search of functional sturdiness, Mackintosh drew upon Scottish vernacular architecture (forts, Medieval towers) to produce an austere overall effect, but accented it with curved metalwork, deployed like calligraphy.

The designs by Mackintosh and his wife for the interior of Kate Cranston's Tea Rooms (1897-9) -- white high-backed enamel chairs, leaded glass accents, everything down to the teaspoons and waitress' uniforms -- were a comprehensive statement of Mackintosh's personal vision of combining the rational (function) and the expressive (realized through Art Nouveau decoration) with graceful elegance. Through their participation in the Sezession Exhibition in Vienna in 1901, Mackintosh and MacDonald enjoyed greater influence in Germany and Austria than in Scotland and England where, after Mackintosh became a partner in the architectural firm of Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh, his buildings fell out of favor, attacked by hardcore Arts-and-Crafts critics as being infected by corrupt Art Nouveau influences. In his later years, most of his designs were for residential interiors, fabrics and book covers. He died on December 10, 1928 in London, England.



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