Charles Rennie Mackintosh - Artist Biography with Portfolio of Structures, Furniture and Interior Design, Jewellery and Paintings.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a famous British artist who achieved success in a wide variety of disciplines, including architecture, furniture, interior design and painting. His style remains popular today and touches on comtemporary movements such as Art Nouveau, Secessionism and European Symbolism.
Many today will become familiar with the name of Mackintosh by coming across some of the buildings in which he was involved during his career, such as Glasgow School of Art, The Willow Tearooms and Hill House. These remain protected structures that allow new generations to understand more about his work as an architect. There are then smaller creations in other fields, such as his furniture designs and paintings which adorn notable collections around the world. He is seen as a key figure within the history of design, with his reputation having spread to the US and elsewhere. There are also a great number of jewellery designs and paintings left over from his career too, and these have since been dispersed in a similar manner. Along the way, Mackintosh would work alongside a number of other trusted artists who shared a similar vision and taste, building a solid momentum within the Scottish city of Glasgow, before spreading across the UK. The key members, including Mackintosh, would become known as The Four and they are regularly mentioned within studies in the history of design.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh's life was closely linked with the city of his birth - Glasgow, Scotland. Its rich connections to the rest of the world through its historical shipping industry would help bring different artistic and cultural influences into the city. The artist, for example, would come across traditional Japanese art which was prominent elsewhere in Europe at the time. The Industrial Revolution was also another key factor within British society at the time and it would impact all areas of its citizens' lives. Mackintosh set about developing a style which was a form of simplified beauty, where an over elaboration of design detail was avoided. The outcome of this was a contemporary approach which still feels remarkably contemporary, even within the present day. The overall Art Nouveau movement, which contained many different sub-movements from across Europe, would also manage to retain its freshness over the next century and its biggest names, such as Mackintosh, continue to be studied and loved in equal measure.
In perhaps a similar manner to Antoni Gaudi, and many other famous architects, Mackintosh would design both the architecture for his projects, but also plan in-depth the interiors as well. This would include furniture design and decorations, all of which would fit seamlessly together. This gave his creations a consistent, organic finish and led to many patrons courting his services. He embraced modern design ideas which appeared around Europe at the time, but also regularly incorporated historical Scottish design elements alongside. Although he moved down to England for a period, most of his life was spent in Glasgow, where he remains an iconic figure. He would also became an accomplished watercolourist, and would turn to this medium when elements of the process of architectural design would start to weigh on his creative mind. Other traditional art forms in which he was involved included jewellery and stained glass, all of which received his trademark style at one point or another. Tours of the structures that he designed around Scotland remain major attractions today, with exhibitions of his work also fairly regular with the UK and US.
This artist would incorporate a modernist style across a variety of different art forms, always looking for new avenues to take his artistic expression. Mackintosh was undeniably a major influence upon the direction of European art, helping to shape the Art Nouveau. He was another artist to bring elements of Japanese art into Europe, but also combined some of these ideas with traditional British techniques, such as with his furniture and stained glass designs. Most remember him as an architect, first and foremost, but you will also find his influence on jewellery, interior design and watercolours. His impact within Glasgow has helped both man and city to receive greater prominence within the international art scene from the 1990s onwards, when perhaps previously his impact had been neglected outside of the UK. His cross-discipline approach has also brought him to the attention of many different tastes and his career is also prominent within academic circles, where his connection to design history is still widely taught. The late 19th century was one of Britain's strongeset periods within the visual arts and Mackintosh was perhaps Scotland's strongest contribution towards that.
This artist provided important innovations that would inspire other members of the Art Nouveau. He combined architecture with interior design with a modern approach which attempted to avoid re-hashing classical design. He incorporated Japanese inspirations with local Scottish content as well as drawing in modern, contemporary touches from elsewhere in Europe. The particular strand would later by termed Modern Style (British Art Nouveau style), as the Art Nouveau was really a collection of related movements from all around the continent. Along with the likes of Beardsley and Sickert, it was clear that British art had something to offer the early 20th century art scene although for some years his legacy was restricted to the UK. By contrast, the UK also enjoyed some impressive work from the Pre-Raphaelites just a few years earlier, and their approach was much more related to traditional art. The rise of the Industrial Revolution would impact how artists saw their profession, and they would adapt to these changing conditions in different ways.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work as an architect peaked during the period of 1895 to 1906. It was during this time that he would receive all of his major commissions. Despite working within this discipline for a relatively short space of time, he was somehow able to leave behind an impressive and influential legacy which is still felt today. He would take on a variety of projects during that time, including public and private buildings, plus commercial and religious properties. He was involved in both the architecture itself, as well as the interior design, often completing both as part of the same project. Most of these structures still exist today and efforts have been made to preserve them whilst also communicating the role that Mackintosh played in their conception. His impact was strengthened even after his death thanks to a number of incomplete plans that have since been delivered by other architects, bringing more of his ideas to life. Glasgow, a city with a huge connection to his life, continues to promote his achievements with local and national support.
The artist would not be able to just design architectural projects, but he would also complete many of their interiors as well. Furniture was a particularly memorable addition and, in partnership with his wife, he would construct all manner of interesting items. He would rely on geometric shapes, with many straight lines appearing from the early 20th century. These would therefore match his style of architecture. He would also regularly experiment right up until his death, meaning he went far beyond just designing tables and chairs for his clients. Many of his original designs will actually appear today from a number of Scottish furniture makers, who happily disclose his designs as being the inspiration for each piece. Again, Japanese culture would influence the style of Mackintosh's furniture, to a certain degree, and he went away from elaborate, ornate designs to something that would make better use of the space available. Such a policy is ideally suited to today's smaller private homes and there remains a strong interest in the furniture designs that he produced over a century ago. This was an exciting period for interior design more generally, and many studies into the discipline's history will touch of his contributions, as well as others from around Europe during this time.
The artist focused intently on watercolours in the latter part of his career. He produced a number of memorable landscape paintings whilst living in France, including rock formations and scenes of fields and small rural cottages. Having worked with nature in other disciplines, a switch to landscape painting seemed an entirely comfortable transition for the artist. His approach within watercolour continued his modernist ideals, and most of these artworks feature bright colours and an expressive use of detail. Besides the landscape scenes of France he also created still life paintings of flowers, such as tulps, roses and peonies. Many would be captured within painting pads, before later being removed and sold separately. There would also be poster art, perhaps inspired by developments in Paris at around that time, and these advertisements followed a similar style to the work of artists like Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha. Mackintosh was therefore spreading the impact of the Art Nouveau within the UK across multiple formats, whilst also adding his own innovations that would be taken on by others elsewhere in Europe in the years that followed.
The artist's trademark touches were ideally suited to jewellery design, and many Scottish designers have subsequently used his work as inspiration for their own creations. His simplistic use of line and geometric shape would suit any size of product, even down to the smallest earring or necklace. His Scottish themes also appeal to local Scots plus others connected to, or fans of, celtic design. In actual fact, his approach was inspired by other regions too, including Japanese art which had arrived in Glasgow via its well connected shipping industry. Mackintosh himself is treated as an icon within Scotland and so any young artist will already be entirely aware of his achievements and the disciplines in which he was involved. Mackintosh tended to focus on interior design and architecture together, giving a consistent finish to the structures on which he worked, where as jewellery design would have been more of a specialist niche and not really related to his normal line of business. Inevitably, he would also have to work alongside other specialists in order to keep up with a busy period in the 1890s and 1900s, and it would be hard for him to entirely master all of the different disciplines in which he was involved.
Some might argue that Mackintosh was something of a perfectionist, at least in the way in which he attempted to control every element of his projects. He would therefore insist on covering the interior designs of his architectural projects, though it would often be his wife who actually delivered those details. Mackintosh wanted a consistency throughout the structures that he delivered, and would go as far as choosing the right door knobs and window frames. His wife was also skilled in other areas such as textile design and the two together had an incredible breath of talent which could cover almost any challenge. They would deliver interiors for entire rooms, something stretching to an entire residence for clients with enough time and money. Their patrons eventually would be spread across Europe as their joint reputation would start to spread beyond the boundaries of their native Scotland. Followers of the Art Nouveau in mainland Europe would also start to take notice of their work. Mackintosh perhaps worked so intensely on these projects that he would eventually burn out and chose to relocate from Glasgow and just focus on watercolours instead.
Mackintosh's artistic style made use of floral patterns and sweeping lines, often joined by clear geometric shapes. This approach would continue into all aspects of his production, including a number of designs for stained glass windows. These items would be installed within the various architectural projects that he worked on, including private homes and public buildings. In recent years there has been a growing number of modern manufacturers who have taken inspiration from his career and produced their own reproductions of his original work. The attempts by the artist to simplify design and move away from over elaborate constructions was ideally suited to the methods involved with producing stained glass. His trademark elements such as flower heads would appear in window designs, helping to bring an abudance of light into his own interiors. He regularly incorporated curving stems and flowers related to his native Scotland within many of his creations, and they would be a natural extension to his work in other disciplines, bringing a synergy that would run throughout the completed projects.
His talents as a draughtsman would lie behind pretty much every discipline in which Mackintosh would be involved, right across his career. It was entirely fundamental to his architecture, for example, and he would learn most of these technical skills during his time at the Glasgow School of Art who entirely understood the importance of drawing as a basis to most artistic work. The artist would servean apprenticeship between the years of 1884–9 with John Hutchison before working for several years as an assistant draughtsman. This period gave Charles an impressive set of technical knowledge, but also introduced him to the world of work when he would start to learn other skills which would be invaluable once he set up as an independent artist. Several research projects have been undertaken in his native Scotland which have documented many architectural drawings from his career and these help us to learn more about some of the most significant commissions that he took on around the turn of the century. We can also learn more about how he collaborated with others, to see who produced what within these larger projects.
Despite his work falling out of fashion for a number of years after his death, Mackintosh's contributions have returned to the public limelight in recent years. The Art Nouveau era is now as popular as perhaps it ever has been, and this artist was a key influence upon it. Not only was he prominent in bringing the movement to the UK, but his involvement is so many different fields was also fairly unique. Glasgow's cultural heritage has been re-appraised in recent years and this has inevitably brought Mackintosh's work back into our thoughts. Many of his major architectural projects can also still be visited today as part of the Mackintosh tour and this has been crucial in helping new generations to understand more about his achievements. Most importantly, his use of simple line and geometric shapes, with floral touches, still feels entirely contemporary all these years later and interest in reproductions of his work remains strong. Another unique element to his work was how he managed to combine influences from Scotland and Japan, alongside other modern innovations appearing across Europe at that time.