Combining a progressive modernity with the spirit of romanticism, the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh created many of the best loved and most influential buildings, furniture and decorative schemes of the early 20th century.
Extracts from the accompanying The Greatest Scot television programme are being added to these biographical notes as the programme is broadcast between November 9 and 13. If you live outside the UK, you will not be able to see these, but you may enjoy other videos about some of the subjects which are available via links in the text. Here is a video about the Queen's Cross Church in the Maryhill area of Glasgow, the only church designed by Mackintosh to be built.
One of eleven children, Mackintosh was born in 1868 to Margaret and William Mackintosh, a clerk in the police force. He grew up in Glasgow and from the age of nine attended the Allan Glen’s Institution, a private school for the children of tradesmen and artisans, which specialised in vocational training. At fifteen Mackintosh began evening classes at Glasgow School of Art and a year later, in 1884, he began a five-year pupilage with the Glasgow architects John Hutchins. In 1889 he joined the more eminent firm of Honeyman & Keppie, where he received a traditional Beaux Arts training typical of the period.
Few designers can claim to have created a unique and individual style that is so instantly recognisable. Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was an architect who designed schools, offices, churches, tearooms and homes, an interior designer and decorator, an exhibition designer, a designer of furniture, metalwork, textiles and stained glass and, in his latter years, a watercolourist.
Excelling in all these areas, Mackintosh left hundreds of designs and a rich volume of realised work. His distinctive style mixed together elements of the Scottish vernacular and the English Arts and Crafts tradition with the organic forms of Art Nouveau and a drive to be modern. As his work matured, Mackintosh employed bolder geometric forms in place of organic-inspired symbolic decoration.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work can be divided into three main areas: public buildings, private homes and tea rooms. The Glasgow tea rooms he designed in the early 1900s are perhaps his most unique contribution in which art, architecture and design came together in a complete environment.
These light, elegant and sophisticated interiors were an enormous contrast to the gritty, smoky urban city of Glasgow where he was born, trained and lived for most of his adult life. Glasgow is where the majority of his work was executed and Mackintosh’s career paralleled the city’s economic boom. By the end of the 19th century Glasgow was a wealthy, burgeoning European city with an immense network of trade and manufacture that supplied the world with coal and ships. It was also a rich source of commissions for a gifted young architect and designer.
An endlessly fascinating man who created work with a very distinctive voice, Mackintosh emerged from the Arts and Crafts period as an urban architect who became progressively less interested in its rural aesthetic and increasingly inspired by the progressive art movements of Germany and Austria. In 1923 he moved to southern France where he spent the last five years of his life before dying in London.
Despite the disappointments of his later years, his early and mid-career work in Glasgow – much of which is still in use today including the Glasgow School of Art and the Scotland Street School (now a museum of education) has sealed his reputation as one of the most important architects and designers of the turn of the 20th century.