Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art

Born in Glasgow on 7 June 1868, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was originally apprenticed to a local architect John Hutchison, but in 1889 he transferred to the larger, more established city practice of Honeyman & Keppie. To complement his architectural apprenticeship, Mackintosh enrolled in evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art, where he pursued various drawing classes. Here, under the watchful eye of the then headmaster Francis Newbery, his talents flourished, and in the School’s library he was able to consult the latest architecture and design journals. He won numerous student prizes and competitions, including the prestigious Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship in 1890 which allowed him to undertake an architectural tour of Italy.

Back in Glasgow, Mackintosh’s projects for Honeyman & Keppie during the early 1890s displayed an increased maturity. His design for the Glasgow Herald Building (1894) incorporated some cutting-edge technology, including a hydro-pneumatic lift and fire-resistant diatomite concrete flooring. Later at Martyr’s Public School (1895), despite a somewhat restricted brief, he was able to introduce some elaborate but controlled detailing, including the central roof trusses.

In 1896 Mackintosh gained his most substantial commission, to design a new building for the Glasgow School of Art. This was to be his masterwork. Significantly, the building was constructed in two distinct phases, 1897-99 and 1907-09, due to a lack of money. Stylistically, the substantial delay in completion offered Mackintosh the opportunity to amend and fully integrate his original design of 1896, which owed much to Scotland’s earlier baronial tradition, with a second scheme that looked very much to the 20th century through its use of materials and technology. Most dramatic of all the interiors was the new Library (completed in 1909), which was a complex space of timber posts and beams. Its construction owed much to traditional Japanese domestic interiors but ultimately the building was an eclectic mix of styles and influences.

In Europe the originality of Mackintosh’s style was quickly appreciated and in Germany, and particularly in Austria, he received an acclaim and recognition for his designs that he was never truly to receive back home. He contributed to the 8th Vienna Secession and participated in international exhibitions in Turin, Moscow, and elsewhere. Despite success in Europe and the support of clients such as Walter Blackie and Miss Cranston, Mackintosh’s work met with considerable indifference at home and his career soon declined. Few private clients were sufficiently sympathetic to want his ‘total design’ of house and interior. A move to the South of France in 1923 signaled the end of Mackintosh’s architectural career and the last years of his life were spent painting. He died in London on 10 December 1928.