Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Birthday: June 7, 1868
Nationality: British, Scottish
Died At Age: 60
Sun Sign: Gemini
Born Country: Scotland
Born in: Townhead, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Famous as: Architect
Spouse/Ex-: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh (m. 1900)
father: William Mackintosh
mother: Margaret Rennie
Died on: December 10, 1928
place of death: London
City: Glasgow, Scotland
Founder/Co-Founder: Glasgow School of Art
education: The Glasgow School of Art
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect, designer, artist, and water colorist. He was a prominent figure of several major European arts movements, such as Symbolism, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and the Glasgow Style. He began as an apprentice to John Hutchinson and attended part-time classes at the ‘Glasgow School of Art.’ He then joined the firm ‘Honeyman and Keppie,’ where he became a partner later. He was known for his collaboration with Herbert MacNair and the Macdonald sisters, Margaret and Frances, and they later became famous as “The Four.” He married Margaret later. He is remembered for his designs of the ‘Glasgow School of Art’ and the tearooms of Kate Cranston. In his later years, he suffered from oral cancer. He died of the disease in 1928.
Childhood & Early Life
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born on June 7, 1868, in Townhead, Glasgow, to William McIntosh (later Mackintosh) and Margaret Rennie. He was the fourth of the seven children of his parents and also their second son.
His father worked for the ‘City of Glasgow Police.’ His mother would often be sick due to the stress of frequent childbirth.
His father also owned a vegetable garden, which made Mackintosh interested in organic farming. As a child, he was also interested in drawing and often spent time sketching.
Mackintosh had rheumatic fever once, which led to a permanent droop on one side of his face.
Mackintosh spent his early years in the areas of Townhead and Dennistoun (Firpark Terrace) in Glasgow. When the family bought a two-story home in Glasgow's suburbs, Mackintosh showed his architectural bent by restructuring the fireplace and adding décor to the walls.
He initially studied at ‘Reid's Public School’ and then joined ‘Allan Glen's Institution’ (1877). At ‘Allan Glen's,’ he studied architectural and technical drawing. He studied part time at the ‘Glasgow School of Art’ while working as an intern for architect John Hutchinson, from the tender age of 15 till he was 25. Mackintosh also interned as a painter under the director of the school, Francis Newberry.
At art school, Mackintosh and his friend Herbert MacNair met the Macdonald sisters, Margaret and Frances. They began collaborating for furniture, metalwork, and illustration. Their distinctive style was known as the “Spook School,” and they themselves came to be known as “The Four.”
Mackintosh's mother passed away when he was 17. Following this, Mackintosh went around Europe, spending time in Italy and creating sketches of the Romanesque, Byzantine, and Gothic buildings.
In 1890, Mackintosh won the ‘Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship,’ for studying ancient classic architecture.
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In 1889, Mackintosh bagged a job at the renowned architecture firm ‘Honeyman and Keppie,’ in Glasgow.
In 1897, ‘Honeyman and Keppie’ was commissioned to redesign for the ‘Glasgow School of Art.’ However, in 1899, at the opening ceremony of the building, Keppie took all the credit for the work, although Mackintosh had been the chief architect of the project.
Mackintosh's furniture designs, too, initially received poor reviews in Glasgow. However, his mentor, Francis Newberry, sent those designs to various artists in Belgium. There, his art was praised.
He was finally invited to the ‘8th Secessionist Exhibition’ in Vienna (1900) and to the ‘International Exhibition of Decorative Arts’ in Turin (1902).
Mackintosh had earlier met Catherine (Kate) Cranston, a Glasgow-based entrepreneur. Cranston was the daughter of an affluent tea trader. Between 1896 and 1917, she wanted to build artistic tearooms, where people could drink tea and appreciate art at the same time.
Mackintosh, along with his wife, Margaret Macdonald (of the Macdonald sisters), re-styled all four of Cranston’s tearooms in Glasgow. The ‘Willow Tearooms’ remains the most prominent of the four, as this was the only one that had Mackintosh in charge of the entire design.
The tearooms were luxurious and had different colors for men and women. They also had a "Room Deluxe," consisting of a splendid gesso panel.
In 1902–1904, Mackintosh and Macdonald designed the famed ‘Hill House’ in Helensburgh, Scotland, for publisher Walter Blackie.
In 1904, Mackintosh became a managing partner at ‘Honeyman and Keppie.’ In 1907, Mackintosh's proposal to design the second half of the ‘Glasgow School of Art’ was approved. The project was completed in 1909.
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Again, John Keppie was credited as the chief architect of the project and Mackintosh was just credited as an assistant. This was too much for Mackintosh, who was already grieving his father’s death from bronchitis and heart issues the previous year. He thus plunged into depression and alcoholism. He also suffered from pneumonia during this time. Due to his behavior, Mackintosh was soon asked to leave ‘Honeyman and Keppie.’
By 1914, Mackintosh and Macdonald had moved to Walberswick, in Suffolk. During that time, he had almost stopped designing and had started to focus on watercolor painting.
After World War I began, Mackintosh was arrested after being suspected of being a German spy due to his frequent contact with Vienna.
He was, however, released soon after. Nevertheless, he was asked to leave the town, as the locals were unhappy with his presence. Following this, Mackintosh and his wife moved to London, where he turned into a recluse and was unable to find work.
His wife soon became associated with the city’s artistic community. However, Mackintosh’s mental health continued to deteriorate. He also began facing financial issues.
To save money, in 1923, the couple moved to Port Vendres, in southern France. They enjoyed the picturesque landscape there, and it reenergized their artistic ambitions.
However, both Mackintosh and his wife soon fell sick and had to return to London for treatment. Mackintosh developed cancer on his tongue and had to regularly visit ‘Westminster Hospital’ to be treated.
Even when he was at the hospital, he helped students master anatomical drawings. He himself continued to draw, but by then, he had stopped signing his art.
Family & Personal Life
In 1891, Mackintosh was engaged to John Kelpie's sister, Jessie. However, he broke the engagement later, and that caused issues for him at work.
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In 1892, Mackintosh met artist Herbert McNair, who became his best friend later, and Margaret Macdonald (one of the Macdonald sisters of “The Four” and his future wife).
Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald got married in 1900 and soon moved into an apartment at 120 Mains Street. They played hosts to numerous artists from mainland Europe. They did not have any children but often entertained the children of friends.
After becoming the managing partner at ‘Honeyman & Keppie,’ Mackintosh moved into his new home at Florentine Terrace, in the posh area of West End suburb of Hillhead, with his wife. They stayed there from 1906 to 1914. They moved places several times after that.
In his final years, Mackintosh had lost the ability to talk, due to a cancerous growth in his tongue and throat. He died on December 10, 1928, with a pencil in his hand. His funeral was held at the ‘Golders Green’ crematorium.
One of Mackintosh’s most notable architectural projects was the ‘Glasgow School of Art’ (1896–1909), which is regarded as the first original instance of “Art Nouveau” architecture in Great Britain.
He designed two private houses: the ‘Windyhill’ in Kilmacolm (1899–1901) and the ‘Hill House’ in Helensburgh (1902).
He is also known for his designs of the ‘Willow Tea Rooms’ in Glasgow (1904) and the ‘Scotland Street School’ (1904–1906).
He was also part of two major incomplete projects, among many others, namely, the ‘1901 Glasgow International Exhibition’ (1898) and the ‘Haus eines Kunstfreundes’ (1901).
The late 20th century witnessed a renewed interest in his work. Soon, replicas of Mackintosh chairs began to be made.
In the late 1970s, ‘The Mackintosh House,’ located in Glasgow, was restructured and rebranded as a museum.
The ‘Glasgow School of Art’s “Mackintosh Building” was destroyed by two major fires, in 2014 and 2018, respectively.
The ‘Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society’ is a non-profit organization in Glasgow that raises awareness about his work.